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Taxpayer Advocacy Panel: What It is and Why It Matters
Laura Snyder explains the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel and how it can help overseas American taxpayers
TAP is a Federal Advisory Committee to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). TAP’s purpose is to help identify issues of importance to taxpayers and provide a taxpayer perspective to the IRS on key programs, products, and services. It also serves as a focus group that makes recommendations to the IRS and the National Taxpayer Advocate. The job of TAP members is to listen to taxpayers, identify taxpayers’ issues, and make suggestions for improving IRS service and customer satisfaction.
TAP is made up of approximately 75 persons. They are chosen to represent a cross-section of American taxpayers and they hail from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Only in the past few years has TAP membership included one person living outside the United States.
All TAP members are volunteers. That is, they do not receive a salary of any kind although reasonable expenses, and notably travel expenses, are reimbursed. They are required to commit to serving a three-year term, with the expectation that they will devote 200 to 300 hours per year to the Panel, and more if they lead a committee or subcommittee.
What Does TAP Do?
TAP and its members have two principal activities: (1) examining taxpayer suggestions and formulating proposals to the IRS as a result of those suggestions, and (2) engaging in public outreach.
Examining Suggestions and Formulating Proposals
This work is done entirely through TAP’s committees. There are currently six committees:
1. Toll-Free Phone Line
2. Tax Forms and Publications
3. Taxpayer Assistance Centers
4. Notices and Correspondence
5. Taxpayer Communications
6. Special Projects
The subject matter focus of the first five committees is reflected in their titles. The sixth committee, Special Projects, has two subject matter focuses—identity theft and anything labelled “international”—and this committee serves as a catch-all for any topics that are not covered by the other five committees.
Each committee is divided into two subcommittees. The most detailed work of TAP - examining and researching taxpayer suggestions in-depth and formulating proposals for improvement to the IRS as a result of those suggestions—is done at the subcommittee level.
As the only international member of TAP, I have been assigned to the Special Projects Committee and to the subcommittee tasked with international matters.
While some in-person meetings are held, most of the committees’ and subcommittees’ work is done virtually, via email and monthly online meetings. Most full committee meetings are public; in that case they are notified in the Federal Register and anyone (you, for example) can dial-in to join them.
Taxpayer suggestions submitted to TAP are screened and categorized. The screening process operates to filter out suggestions that are not appropriate for TAP, either because they suggest legislative or regulatory changes and/or because they raise purely individual issues without any underlying systemic issues (discussed below), or because they do not contain enough information to enable TAP to identify an actionable issue.
The suggestions that remain after this screening process are allocated to the appropriate committee based upon subject matter. Like issues are often grouped together. Suggestions that a committee is not able to address immediately—likely because they are working on other issues considered to be more urgent or more impactful—are placed into a “parking lot” in order to be addressed at a later time.
In considering a suggestion and formulating a proposal, a subcommittee will consider a number of factors. While many of those factors will vary depending upon the subject matter, one consistent consideration with be the extent to which the suggestion raises one or more of the rights listed in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In formulating a proposal the subcommittee will seek to identify and explain in what manner the proposal addresses, for example, the “right to be informed,” the “right to quality service,” and/or the “right to a fair and just tax system.”
Once a TAP subcommittee has formulated a proposal for improvement based upon a taxpayer suggestion, the proposal goes through a quality control review before it is submitted first for approval of the full committee and then for approval of the Joint Committee (made up of the Chairs of each of the six committees). Only then is the proposal submitted to the IRS.
The IRS is required to respond to the proposal within 60 days. The response must be detailed and must indicate whether the proposal was adopted, partially adopted or non-adopted. If adopted, then the IRS must indicate a projected date for implementation. The IRS may also respond that the proposal is “under consideration”—this can occur if the proposal cannot be implemented immediately due to budgetary or system limitations.
If the IRS non-adopts a proposal in whole or in part, TAP can formulate and submit a counter-response to which the IRS is required to respond within 30 days.
TAP members also engage in public outreach. The purpose of the outreach is two-fold: (1) to inform the public of the existence and the objectives of TAP, and (2) to solicit taxpayer suggestions for improvement of the IRS.
Outreach can take different forms. Articles such as this are one form. Another common form is attendance at events where the TAP member can interact with taxpayers. Examples include making presentations before a community group or civic organization and manning a TAP booth at a forum, fair or trade show.
TAP’s purpose is to address systemic, not individual issues. TAP members cannot advise individual taxpayers on their individual situations. Further, TAP’s mission is limited to improving IRS service for taxpayers—TAP’s mission does not extend to legislative or regulatory changes.
This does not mean that a taxpayer cannot submit suggestions for improvement that result from the taxpayer’s own individual experience. In many cases an individual’s experience will clearly expose an underlying systemic issue. In other cases, the underlying systemic issue may at first not be clear but it may become clear as result of TAP’s careful study of the taxpayer’s suggestion.
The fact that TAP does not address individual issues does not mean that the taxpayer with an individual issue has nowhere to turn. A different organization called Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is mandated to help with individual problems that taxpayers may face. Notably TAS assists with taxpayers who are experiencing economic harm or who have not been able to resolve IRS-related issues through normal channels.
Why is TAP Relevant for Overseas Taxpayers?
As you know, US citizens living overseas are subject to US taxation in essentially the same manner as persons living in the United States. In that context, TAP is no less relevant for overseas taxpayers as it is for US residents.
As a US taxpayer living overseas, you are likely to understand that living overseas can result in complications with respect to filing and paying US taxes, or simply with respect to interacting with the IRS, that US residents are unlikely to face. TAP can be helpful in addressing some of those complications.
As two examples, TAP has considered ways for IRS publications to better communicate and thus reduce confusion with respect to: (i) the address to which manually submitted returns filed by those living outside the United States should be sent, and (ii) how to claim deductions for out-of-pocket health insurance premiums, including those paid to foreign insurers.
What Can You (Yes, You) Do?
As a US taxpayer living outside the United States, there are several things that you can do:
Submit Suggestions for Improvement
The most obvious thing that you can do is submit your suggestions for how the IRS can improve. The best way to do this is via the website: https://improveirs.org/speakup.aspx. In submitting your suggestion, you should be as clear and as specific as possible. If the TAP members screening your suggestion are not able to understand it they will not be able to classify it or recommend that TAP follow up on it.
Keep in mind that TAP cannot act on suggestions requiring legislative or regulatory changes. That doesn’t mean that you should not advocate for legislative changes (to the contrary); it just means that TAP is not the context in which to do that. TAP is the context in which to suggest improvements to how the IRS functions under existing legislation while you may also, in parallel but in a different context, be advocating for legislative changes.
In submitting your suggestion, you will have the option but not the obligation to leave your contact information. If you leave your contact information TAP will be able to follow up with you, to ask for any additional information that may be needed, to suggest to you any other steps it may be useful for you to take (such as contact TAS), and to let you know the outcome of your suggestion.
Notify Me of Possible Outreach Opportunities
If you would like to suggest possible outreach opportunities to me or if you would like to invite me to one, please do not hesitate to contact me. As noted above, the opportunity could be a presentation about TAP or it could be participation at a forum, fair or trade show targeting US citizens living abroad. It could also be the submission of an article such as this one for another publication targeting Americans overseas.