Rep. Mike Kelly: The IRS should be a resource, not an adversary

Every April, Americans approach Tax Day with a bit of apprehension and often a lot of questions. Do I owe money? Where’s my refund? Did I fill in my information correctly? Am I going to hear from the IRS?

From cradle to grave, whether we want to or not, American taxpayers will have a continuous relationship with the IRS. That relationship is often stressful, however, and the fact that the agency is one of the most visible and powerful in our government makes interactions with it intimidating for regular Americans.

Regardless of age or income, the IRS will always play a role in the lives of taxpayers. At every stage of life, it should be a helpful role, whether it be a confused 16-year-old with his or her first W-2, a working mom filing for the annual child tax credit, or a senior citizen who has a question regarding a health savings account.

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Unfortunately, the last time Congress reformed the IRS to provide better service was 1998. The world certainly looks a lot different than it did 20 years ago. In 1998, Armageddon was the top movie, Meg Ryan was impatiently waiting for her dial-up modem to connect to the internet to see if Tom Hanks had sent her an email in You’ve Got Mail, and Mark Zuckerberg had not yet created Facebook in his college dorm room.

Today, Americans would not tolerate 1998’s internet speeds or means of communication, and they should not have to endure the IRS of 1998. Given the IRS’s role in every stage of an American’s life, it is imperative that the IRS of today align with the taxpayer of today. Whether it be online, in person, or on the phone, the IRS should meet taxpayers where they are. The agency should work for them.

That is why I am a co-author of the Taxpayer First Act, which the House of Representatives will consider today. The bill sets forth a bold new vision for the IRS of the future. Over the last two years, Democrats and Republicans have reached across the aisle to figure out how to make the IRS a service-first agency – one that works for the taxpayer, including low-income taxpayers.

If signed into law, our bill will bring the IRS into the 21st century by recasting its mission to service-first. It would mandate a complete restructuring of the IRS to improve efficiency, enhance cybersecurity, and better meet the needs of taxpayers. It would also require the IRS to develop a comprehensive customer service strategy based on best practices from the private sector.

As we approach Tax Day, we are hopeful that we can make it a little less scary for you. 

To better help taxpayers interacting with the IRS, the plan would also create an independent appeals process, providing taxpayers a fair hearing when they have a dispute with the IRS. We are also putting in place additional safeguards around IRS enforcement tools, ensuring that they are only used when necessary and without abuse. Our plan protects low-income taxpayers by extending the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Matching Grant Program (VITA), which provides tax preparation assistance.

Additionally, the bill will make sure low-income taxpayers are not referred to private debt collectors and are provided access to information about qualified low-income taxpayer clinics.

Finally, the IRS cannot become a first-class agency without state-of-the-art information technology (IT). Billions of dollars have been wasted on IT upgrades, and our plan puts the IRS’ efforts to modernize itself back on track and ensures stronger accountability if those efforts fall short. Our plan also provides the IRS with better tools to combat identity theft, strengthening partnerships with states and the private sector.

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So, as we approach Tax Day, we are hopeful that we can make it a little less scary for you. When you have a tax question, we want your first thought to be, “Not a problem. I’ll check the IRS website, walk into an IRS office, or pick up the phone and call.”

We also hope that when you do so, you’ll be confident that the IRS is there to help you and your family. We want the agency to be viewed as a resource, not an adversary. We are hopeful that the Senate will take up and pass this important legislation, and that President Trump will sign it. That will be a critical step toward restoring Americans’ faith in the IRS.