The Darkside of IRS Automation

In early 2000, the IRS underwent a drastic overhaul in response to tremendous congressional pressures. They started to adopt the language and organization of business and management.  Taxpayers were no longer just taxpayers, they were "customers".  Part of this shift focused on "efficiencies" and introducing automated processes.  The thinking at the time was that this would make it easier and efficient for both the IRS and its "customers".

I recent lecture by the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, however, is chilling and paints a gloomy picture of what lies ahead.  It presents what may be one of the greatest threats to the IRS, and its customers, to date.  Her most poignant comments were as follows:

I believe that the IRS is at a turning point, and for a number of reasons, we are beginning the slide to a radically different IRS from that which many of us in the room today practiced before or worked in just a decade or two ago. I believe that unless we act to change that trend, the IRS of tomorrow will have little personal interaction with taxpayers. . . . It will relentlessly drive forward on a path of more automation mostly to make its own work more convenient and rarely more helpful or tailored to the taxpayer. . . . It enables the IRS to ignore the humanity of taxpayers. [Emphasis in original.]

I can attest from personal experience that the average John Q. Taxpayer can be absolutely be trapped in the IRS "system" and find it difficult, it not impossible, to get answers or guidance.  Often cases languish waiting for agents to be assigned or for appeals case officers to be assigned.  Frequently, all a taxpayer can do is call up the IRS hot-line, sit on hold for 30 minutes, and then talk to an IRS agent over the phone who can't assist them, let alone provide them with any helpful suggestions.