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Voice of the voiceless: What preparers want in the next NTA

The retirement of National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has many preparers hoping her successor brings the same qualities to the job that she did.

“I’ve been very satisfied,” said Terri Ryman at Southwest Tax & Accounting, in Elkhart, Kansas. “She hits the nail on the head every year with her annual report and usually hits all the points that I’m also concerned about regarding the IRS and Congress. I hope they will continue to represent taxpayers and preparers as this office always has.”

“I'd like to see the good work that Olsen has done continued and expanded,” said Debra L. James, an Enrolled Agent at Genesis Accounting & Management Services, in Lorain, Ohio. “The TA has become my ace in the hole when I’ve exhausted all of my other resources to resolve a problem. It’s an invaluable service that reinforces the commitment I’ve seen from IRS and other taxing agencies.”

“Having someone to help when other means of resolving tax issues haven’t been productive is a tremendous resource,” added Gregg Wind, a CPA with Kallman+Thompson+Logan in Los Angeles.

Olson retires at the end of July, with plans to start a nonprofit to continue advocating for taxpayer rights. She’s also promised future battles against the tax bureaucracy.

The IRS has not named a successor.

15 laws

Created in 1996, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate has responsibility to make Congress aware of “recurring, unresolved problems and difficulties” that taxpayers encounter in dealing with the IRS. Olson was appointed in 2001.

The IRS implemented hundreds of recommendations she made for administrative change and Congress has introduced bills to implement dozens of her recommendations; 15 have been enacted into law. In June 2014, the IRS adopted the Taxpayer Bill of Rights for which Olson long pushed.

“I’m not certain that the public has been aware of this position and the role that it serves,” said Morris Armstrong, an EA and registered investment advisor at Armstrong Financial Strategies in Cheshire, Connecticut. “I think of it as the voice of the voiceless when it comes to the world of the 1040.

“They advocate the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which is merely aspirational, and I’d like them to push for it to be codified,” Armstrong said. “I’d like the TA to proactively work on all reforms that impact the individual, guarantee a certain turnaround time and be funded to handle more cases. The people who pay taxes are at the mercy of a behemoth system which sometimes is too adversarial to taxpayers.”

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson at the NYU Tax Controversy Forum

Involvement and independence

Some preparers want the advocate’s position embellished. Kerry Freeman, an EA at Freeman Income Tax Service in Anthem, Arizona, hopes the next advocate takes a stronger position on regulation of the preparer community. “The mission of the advocate is to help the taxpayer — not only preventing them from being victimized by the IRS but also preventing them from being victimized by bad actors in the tax industry that have no standards,” Freeman said.

Lawrence Pon, a CPA and EA at Pon & Associates in Redwood City, California, wants an advocate who “sees tax professionals as an integral part of the compliance process,” he said. “The advocate should dedicate a portion of their resources for tax professionals so together we can get cases resolved quickly. I understand the advocate can have a very large backlog. We can help with that … We should get our own hotline [and] have access via e-services.”

Olson herself wants independence in the next advocate. “The next NTA needs to know what his or her role on that [IRS] team is, and not get sucked in that being a team player means that you give in,” she said.

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