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Hearing on Internal Revenue Service Operations and the 2012 Tax Return Filing Season
C O N T E N T S
Hearing on Internal Revenue Service Operations
and the 2012 Tax Return Filing Season
Thursday, March 22, 2012
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
*Ms. Jenkins. [Presiding] The Subcommittee will come to order on the hearing on the Internal Revenue Service budget request and the 2012 tax filing season.
Hard working American taxpayers have faced incredible challenges over the last several years. Many have struggled with unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and doubt about our country's economic future because of out of control spending and public debt, and then tax season comes around.
The Tax Code, which has tripled in size since 1975, continues to burden American families and small businesses with too many taxes, too many loopholes, and too many pages.
It is estimated that the average taxpayer spends 21 hours and over $250 complying with the Tax Code each year.
They must keep track with an increasingly complex and difficult to understand Tax Code or at least hire someone else who does.
The Internal Revenue Service, of course, has the unenviable job of administering and enforcing our convoluted Tax Code.
As we meet today, we are in the middle of the 2012 tax return filing season, and millions of taxpayers and employers are willing to meet their tax filing obligations.
Some have reported experiencing delays in receiving tax refunds, and programming errors at IRS have delayed some six million returns, which we will discuss in today's hearing.
We will also talk about the frustrating issue of tax fraud and improper payments. Taxpayers are exasperated because while they work so hard to comply with the Tax Code, they see press reports of thieves robbing the Treasury of billions of dollars each year.
One recent press report detailed how an identity theft ring in Florida committed $130 million in fraud through stolen Social Security numbers.
On top of this fraud, tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money is lost every year through improper payments of refundable tax credits, including $17 billion a year for the earned income tax credit alone.
Finally, we will talk about the Administration's fiscal year 2013 budget request for the IRS. For fiscal year 2013, the Administration has requested nearly $13 billion in appropriations for the Agency, an increase of eight percent from fiscal year 2012.
Included in this request are over $360 million and nearly 900 new employees to implement portions of the Affordable Care Act, including a new instrument subsidy and the controversial individual mandate penalty.
We look forward to discussing this and the other new initiatives that the IRS plans for fiscal year 2013.
With that, I would like to welcome Commission Douglas Shulman here today. I look forward to a fruitful discussion of his Agency, his mission, and the ongoing tax return filing season.
Before I yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Lewis, I ask unanimous consent that for all members, written statements be included in the record. Without objection, so ordered.
*Ms. Jenkins. I will also ask unanimous consent that GAO's report on the 2011 tax filing season and fiscal year 2012 budget request be included in the record. Without objection, so ordered.
*Ms. Jenkins. Mr. Lewis?
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much, Madam Chair, for holding this hearing on the Internal Revenue Service.
I am pleased that we have the Commissioner before us today.
I have serious concerns about the effect of the recent budget cuts on taxpayers, tax collection, and Agency operations.
In the most recent report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate stated that the most serious problem facing taxpayers is that the IRS is not adequately funded to serve taxpayers and to collect taxes. I fully agree with this statement.
This year, the Agency's budget was cut by over $300 million. This cut harmed taxpayers and telephone service. Telephone calls have increased by 34 percent, but the hours phones are answered have decreased by 20 percent.
Only 65 percent of taxpayers seeking telephone assistance are able to speak to an IRS employee, and they must wait an average of 17 minutes.
Taxpayers seeking in person assistance also have been harmed. This is clear from the very long wait time at Taxpayer Assistance Centers.
The budget cut also harmed Agency operations. The cut forced the Agency to lay off thousands of employees. The majority of these employees worked in Enforcement. They protected and collected revenue. This reduction does not help tax collection or reduce the deficit. It makes no sense.
I look forward to discussing these issues and the Agency's proposed budget for next year.
Madam Chair, finally, I would like to take a moment to thank Floyd Williams for his service and dedication to the Agency and to this Congress.
As many of you know, Floyd is the Legislative Affairs Director of IRS. He plans to retire this Summer.
Floyd began his Government service as a congressional page under Senator Fulbright of Arkansas many years ago. I think the Senator from Arkansas probably violated the child labor laws. You are not that old.
I have worked with Floyd in many roles on this committee, and I know he will be missed. I wish him the best as he retires. Thank you for your great service.
With that, Madam Chair, I yield back.
*Ms. Jenkins. Thank you, Mr. Lewis.
I would like to welcome back the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Douglas H. Shulman, who has served as Commissioner since March 2008.
Commissioner Shulman, thank you again for your time today. The Committee has received your written statement and it will be made part of the formal hearing record.
You will be recognized for five minutes for your oral remarks, and you may begin when you are ready.
STATEMENT OF DOUGLAS H. SHULMAN, COMMISSIONER, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
*Mr. Shulman. Thank you very much, to all the members of the Subcommittee, for giving me the opportunity to testify today.
I want to talk a little about filing season, our strategic initiatives, and the President's 2013 budget, which would give us a much needed increase over the 2012 enacted levels.
A significant portion of the President's 2013 budget would restore congressional reductions in IRS funding made over the last two years.
I want to start by saying that I believe it is incumbent on all of us in the Government to be as efficient as possible and to spend taxpayer dollars wisely.
For the IRS, that means finding savings where we can and continuing to invest in strategic priorities that allow us to improve service and voluntary compliance.
From fiscal year 2009 through the 2013 proposed budget, we will have achieved nearly $1 billion in budget savings and efficiencies in core IRS operations.
These savings and efficiencies reflect an across the board commitment at the IRS to find better and more efficient ways to administer the tax system.
At the same time, we collect $200 in revenue for every dollar spent on our budget. We also collected $2.4 trillion last year. We issued 110 million refunds for $345 billion to hard working American taxpayers.
Our compliance activities brought in a direct revenue of $55 billion, and we blocked another $14 billion from going out the door to taxpayers who were trying to commit fraud on the Government.
In this regard, I want to point out that the Administration's proposal for IRS funding includes critically important enforcement initiatives that would be funded through a program integrity cap adjustment.
Let me just say that this proposal makes sense and is a reflection of the President's and this Administration's belief that IRS funding actually helps reduce the deficit.
Congress is literally leaving money on the table if it does not enact this proposal, which would allow for deficit reducing initiatives in tax compliance, while leaving specific funding decisions to the normal annual appropriations process.
Let me just talk about a couple of things that we have done over the last few years that have moved the Agency forward to position it for the future and do a better job serving taxpayers and making sure they comply with the Tax Code.
Let me just start with filing season. E‑File continues to grow. This year, we have issued about 59 million refunds for a total of $174 billion. That is about the same number as last year.
We deployed several new large technology systems. I would be happy to talk about those as we get further into filing season.
In strategic areas, this year for the first time in history, we have moved from a weekly batch cycle to daily processing of tax returns through CADE 2. CADE 2 delivers on the promise of IRS modernization going back two decades, and we are very proud of this achievement.
A couple of years ago, I told this committee we restructured our technology program, we were going to deliver our major technology initiatives, and this year, we have delivered those initiatives.
We also had the highest score ever last year on the American Customer Satisfaction Index Rating, which is the overall score we track for taxpayer satisfaction with their interactions with the IRS.
We scored 73 on this Index, and we are very proud of this achievement in a constrained budget environment.
Our return preparer program is now up and running. To date, more than 840,000 paid preparer's have registered with the IRS. Both the testing and education requirements are well underway.
This is going to be one of the most important initiatives in the tax system in several decades.
We have also made significant progress in our battle against offshore tax evasion. We have collected more than $4.4 billion to date through our offshore voluntary disclosure program. We are getting people back in the system through this and other offshore initiatives.
I think we have made significant progress, as I said. We have cut $1 billion out of our core operating budget through the 2013 budget proposal that we have given.
Let me conclude my opening statement with one concern that I want to emphasize for this subcommittee, and I think it is quite important for the Ways and Means Committee as a whole.
In recent years, it seems taxpayers increasingly face uncertainty about what the tax law will be for the next filing season. This year, we at the IRS are very concerned with the status of the AMT and so‑called "extenders.''
If the AMT and extenders are not dealt with in a timely fashion, we may have to delay the start of filing season for many millions of taxpayers as we have done in prior years.
I have written to this committee before that it is imperative that whatever action Congress decides to take on AMT and extenders, that this action happen by the end of the year, which would still be late from an operational perspective, but not longer than that, in order to prevent even more widespread disruption of next year's tax filing season.
[The statement of Mr. Shulman follows:]
*Ms. Jenkins. Thank you, Commissioner Shulman. I think we will turn to questioning now. We will alternate between sides with five minutes being given to every member.
Last year, you testified to the Committee that enforcement and customer service are not an either/or proposition, providing quality taxpayer service, especially during a filing season, is important to help taxpayers avoid unintentional errors, inadvertent non‑compliance, and reduce other burdensome post‑filing interactions with the IRS.
So far this filing season, access to live IRS assisters is down to 65 percent and taxpayers are waiting an average of 18 minutes to talk with an IRS assister.
The rate of taxpayers getting busy signals or that are disconnected from the IRS has roughly doubled, yet this is not a new problem but rather seems to be just a bad trend.
Since 2004, the percentage of answered calls has dropped from 87 percent to 70 percent in 2011. Last year, the average wait time was 12 minutes, and in 2007, it was five minutes or less.
Personally, I have heard from Kansas CPAs that it is not uncommon to be on hold for 30 minutes.
According to GAO, this decline in customer service has occurred despite the number of full time equivalents dedicated to answering the phones, having increased from 8,000 in fiscal year 2007 to 8,800 in 2011, and despite greater use of automated answers and self service website options.
It seems to me that the IRS has placed greater emphasis on enforcement at the expense of service, yet as you told us last year, the lack of service for those who have questions will only lead to greater non‑compliance than if those questions had been answered.
Can you help me better understand a few things? First, what actions are being taken to ensure that taxpayers are able to reach a live IRS assister?
Secondly, given your belief that the IRS must deliver both enforcement and customer service, do you think this budget request focuses too much on enforcement while sacrificing customer service, and then finally, does the IRS consider this to be an acceptable level of service?
*Mr. Shulman. Thanks for bringing up a set of important issues. First, let me repeat what I told you last year and what I talk about a lot with our employees, Members of Congress, and everyone involved in the tax system.
It is not an either/or proposition. We need to run service operations and compliance operations to make the nation's tax system work.
Let me put in context the resources that we have this year to put towards both enforcement and customer service.
We had a $300 million budget cut, which was $1.2 billion less than the President had requested for service and enforcement last year.
We also had to absorb for rent and other kinds of increases about $200 million of inflation, and $66 million was put into our technology accounts, which we are very appreciative of, so if you take 300, 200, 66, we had a $566 million reduction in our core services and enforcement accounts.
What we are trying to do is do the best we can with the resources we were given.
Last year, our phone level of service was about 70 percent. This year, it is running at about 66 percent, even though we had predicted about 61 percent, and the reason for that is we have really squeezed efficiency. We have routed calls. More people are using automated answering systems, and people are using our website.
As you said, the wait is longer. At a certain point, we can squeeze as many efficiencies out of technology and other efficiencies as we can, but it comes to how many people do we have answering phones.
Volume is up, so the numbers you gave that said we have more people, we also have much more volume. We have more taxpayers. We have a more complicated Tax Code right now.
Another number that is interesting to look at is how many people hang up in the first couple of minutes. We have added a feature that tells them how long a wait.
We say if you want to, use our web, use our automated phone, or call back when there is less time, then our phone level of service this year is 77 percent, if you take away the people who hung up in the first couple of minutes.
I guess my view of this is we have taken a whole bunch of actions. At a certain point, we need money to invest. You need people to answer phones for live service.
I am pretty proud that while service is down, it has not degraded to a point where it could have gone given the cuts, and the answer to your last question, which is do we think it is acceptable, you know, I want everyone who contacts the IRS to get what they need from the IRS.
This year, everyone is not getting what they need from the IRS, but I think we are doing a pretty good job given the resources we were given.
*Ms. Jenkins. Okay. Thank you, Commissioner. I am just looking at data, and the budget cuts compared to the level of service, they do not always follow, given this information from the GAO.
We would just encourage you to continue to work on that, and we would be delighted to work with you in any way we can.
With that, I would recognize Mr. Lewis for five minutes.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Mr. Commissioner, the GAO notes there has been a 34 percent increase in the number of calls for this filing season, and about a 50 percent increase in calls answered by the automated service.
Can you tell us what the taxpayers are calling about? What are the nature of the calls?
*Mr. Shulman. You know, calls can be anything from people want to set up a payment plan to people are curious, I am filling out my return and I am going to take this deduction, how does that work, just general tax law questions, to questions about where is my refund, I filed last Friday, and my preparer told me I would get a refund on Wednesday and I have not gotten it.
Calls vary. We can get you a specific breakdown of what the calls are.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much. We understand IRS is requesting a cap adjustment of about $700 million for next year's budget to fund the enforcement program.
What are your plans if any if the Agency does not receive these resources?
*Mr. Shulman. Well, we are still early in the congressional budget and appropriations cycle, so we are quite hopeful. In the past, we have had broad bipartisan support for cap adjustments.
The most recent cap adjustment was 2006 in 2007 with a Republican President and a Democratic controlled Congress.
We actually think this is a bipartisan proposal. It reflects the Administration's belief that prudent investments in the IRS are good for deficit reduction, so that there should be cap adjustments for our budget. Investments for us is good for the long term for the tax system.
Right now, I think our position is that for this budget program, integrity cap adjustments are good for the system, that people should agree with it, and we have had good productive conversations in both the House and Senate about it.
*Mr. Lewis. Mr. Commissioner, could you tell members of the Subcommittee, how has the $300 million budget cut impacted taxpayer service this year, and what taxpayer service has been reduced?
*Mr. Shulman. For Ms. Jenkins, I walked through the notion of there is $300 million at the top, but the impact is greater, given where the resources were put in our budget.
I think we have a slight dip in number of taxpayers served in walk‑in centers, but we have had a corresponding increase in number of taxpayers served in volunteer VITA sites, where we encourage them to go, because we work in partnership with community organizations.
Our phone level of service is down by about four percent compared to last year, although automated calls are up, and the wait times are longer.
I guess the way I characterize it is there has been a predictable effect because of less resources. With that said, I am quite proud that we have been able to mitigate some of that effect by making sure we work smart and we really drive efficiencies as hard as we can.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much, Mr. Commissioner. I yield back, Madam Chair.
*Ms. Jenkins. Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Now we will give five minutes to the Representative from Minnesota, Mr. Paulsen.
*Mr. Paulsen. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Commissioner, for being here today. I just wanted to follow up on a letter I sent to you not too long ago.
In the last year, you have been talking a lot or a great deal about this concept of a real time tax system, and have had a number of actually public meetings on the issue as well.
I know there are benefits to receiving real time verification and having that information on hand, but I am concerned that the cost could outweigh the benefits, particularly in the sense that having this filing system could lead to a burden that is very similar to the 1099 provision that was being rolled out as a part of the President's new health care law, which would have been a nightmare for America's employers, small and large.
If the IRS is going to make this real time system work, I am sure you are going to want to have all the data earlier than is required today, you probably are going to want more 1099 data as well.
Just looking at what has been discussed today, it seems that compressing this reporting time line is going to make it more challenging for reporting requirements for pretty much a very onerous and burdensome process right now.
Let me ask you this, what are you doing right now to work with existing stakeholders, with the business community, you know, to kind of get their feedback, their buy in, as part of this?
There is no doubt increased regulatory and compliance costs are a big deal now for employers. It is one of the reasons I think on that level of uncertainty you mentioned on some tax rate issues and AMT and extender issues, but I know this is a factor as well.
Can you talk a little bit about that? Have you conducted any studies of the increased cost to businesses of changing deadlines, for instance, for reporting informational returns or increasing reporting requirements, or would you agree to an independent study as part of that process? Would that make sense?
*Mr. Shulman. Thanks, Mr. Paulsen, it is great questions and an important set of issues. Let me give you perspective on it.
I view one of my jobs as Commissioner to make sure I am helping prod the tax system forward so it works better for the American people ten years and 20 years from now than it does today.
The combination of consumer expectations of us working better and quicker and more timely with taxpayers with the advances in technology, clearly there is room for us to think about a future that works better for people.
What really struck me is the average taxpayer, if they have an interaction with us beyond just filing, that interaction is they have their economic activity one year, they file their return the next year, and it can take us a year to two years to reach out to them.
By the time we go back to them, they have either spent their refund or their records and all the memory is gone, whether it is a small business or individual.
I think the current system actually adds a lot of burden to people, and we have heard that.
I laid out this vision that said what if we could clear everything up rather than coming back to them on the back end at the time they filed, which is the simplest way to think about this.
I also recognize all the things you said, which is this is something that would affect all the stakeholders in the tax system, from taxpayers to tax preparers to information return filers.
The way we went about this is the way I think a public agency should go about this, which is we held a series of public meetings, which I hosted, with stakeholders, the broad range of stakeholders, to get their input.
What we heard universally is basically makes sense, we would all love to have everything work faster in the tax system, but we need to make sure we work through the details together in a constructive fashion so that we do not add burden in the process.
What we are doing now is taking the next step and really developing detailed vision about what this would mean.
I think there has been some misunderstanding. We have never suggested speeding up or adding more information reporting. We have asked questions about what do people have now, when is it ready, and when could they get it to us, not is there more or would they have to start doing what they already do faster.
We have asked ourselves internally, how do our systems work, and when could we do this kind of matching.
*Mr. Paulsen. Let me just ask you this, time is kind of running out here. How much will an upgraded system cost, to sort of encapsulate all of this, that would be needed to run this type of system?
How many years would it take to build and test? You are here justifying the budget in terms of the request that Congress would give to the President, for instance, or the Administration, to run your operations.
*Mr. Shulman. Way too early. This is a vision that we are having conversations with stakeholders on. The first step is laying out exactly what it would mean.
There are a bunch of things we can do right away, which is just process things through our system quicker, so we could have quicker engagement.
I cannot tell you. There is no blueprint right now. We have laid out a vision. We have had a broad set of stakeholder engagements, and we are now moving in to have the next round of stakeholder engagements.
*Mr. Paulsen. Would it be safe to say that you plan to have an actual proposal for Congress to have feedback on at some point as a part of your vision?
*Mr. Shulman. I think for sure we will have public proposals. We will have plenty of time for interaction.
*Mr. Paulsen. Thank you.
*Ms. Jenkins. Thank you. We will recognize Representative Becerra for five minutes.
*Mr. Becerra. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Commissioner, always good to see you. By the way, thank you for the work that you are doing, given the real budgetary constraints that you are facing, and if you will pass along to each and every one of your employees who are doing yeoman's work, I cannot imagine the stress they are under given that you have thousands of Americans waiting to connect with them on the phone, who are waiting 10/20 minutes, and many of them very unhappy that they have to wait that long.
I think after two or three minutes, most Americans tend to hang up on any phone call where they are having to be put on hold.
I hope we will get this done in a smart way. I do not think the first thing we want to do is short change the Agency, which already has a tough task, and that is asking Americans to voluntarily pay their taxes, and where we have Americans who do so to watch as others do not, it is very frustrating.
We do not want to undermine the voluntary compliance rates that we have in this country by Americans who pay their taxes.
Please share with all the folks you work with that we thank them very much, and also tell that gentleman right over there, Mr. Williams, that we thank Floyd Williams for all his years of service.
We are going to miss him because he has been a tremendous asset to not just Congress but to the American people because of the service he has provided to the IRS and to us as the go between, between your Agency and the Congress. We are going to miss him, and we want to say, Floyd, to you, thank you for all the service you have provided over the years.
Your initiative on tax preparer's, that universe of people out there who are representing themselves as competent and qualified to prepare American's tax returns, and get paid to do it.
We know there are some great ones, but we know there have been some that have just ripped off the American public.
It is hard to believe you need a license to cut someone's hair, but in America, you do not need a license to prepare someone's perhaps most important financial documents.
I thank you for the initiative to try to bird dog that industry and make sure competent folks are the ones that are preparing our taxes.
I am distressed. As I sit and listen to what you are saying, you have lost 5,000 employees. Your budget was cut $300 million.
We know when you do tax compliance enforcement, that dollar you spend to have that investigator and those folks who follow through to make sure people are complying with payment of the taxes they owe, that you return $6 for every $1 we invest in you to do that.
For us to be cutting $300 million from your budget, it is distressing. The last thing we want is stories of how some over zealous tax agent goes and busts someone's door down to try to collect taxes.
The truth is for the most part, you have employees who do just yeoman's work to try to help their fellow American's prepare their taxes.
I hope that you will sound the alarms, if they are alarms, on the ability for us to pay our taxes the right way voluntarily.
My understanding is, and correct me if I am wrong, that we now estimate that some $385 billion annually is not paid in taxes that are either avoided or intentionally not paid in this country.
Is that the estimate now, $385 billion?
*Mr. Shulman. That is the tax gap estimate for tax year 2006.
*Mr. Becerra. That is more money than we would fund you for how many years?
*Mr. Shulman. A lot.
*Mr. Becerra. It is just incredible. We have American's who are voluntarily paying their taxes. You have a whole bunch of other American's who unfortunately are not doing what they should or at the level they should, so the responsible taxpayers in this country are having to cover for those who are not.
You can go out and figure out who they are, if you just had the compliance money, the enforcement money, to go out there and find them.
Many of them make errors, simple errors. I think most of those American's are ready to pay their fair share. Others are not. Others are trying to send their money overseas and do things that they should not, and we should make them pay their fair share.
I just hope that we go out there and do this the right way.
Is there any hope that with the funding that you are getting that you can fulfill everything that we are asking you to do?
*Mr. Shulman. Well, it is very much the prerogative of Congress to fund us, and whatever Congress ends up giving us, we will do the best that we can.
I am quite proud of this Agency delivering on multiple fronts over the last several years and especially this year in a decreased budget environment, and really trying to balance compliance and service.
I think we are doing a good job.
*Ms. Jenkins. Thank you. The time has expired. Ms. Black is recognized for five minutes.
*Mrs. Black. Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Mr. Shulman, for being here.
We are all talking about limited dollars. We need to spend our dollars in the best way we possibly can.
I was reading a report just recently from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, who found billions of dollars in Federal education credits that were issued in error.
What I am really trying to get to here is number one, to save, to make sure we are giving the money to the people that really deserve the money, so that we can use it in the budgetary process to fund those places, such as yourself, that can continue to do a good job.
It is very disturbing when I see here how much money this represents that was potentially given to those who do not deserve it.
I just want to read a couple of things out of that report. 1.7 million taxpayers received $2.6 billion in education credits for students for whom there was no supporting documentation in the IRS files that they even attended an educational institution.
Almost 380,000 of these individuals claims students were not eligible because they did not attend the required amount of time or were post‑graduate students, resulting in an estimated $550 million in erroneous education credits, 64,000 of those taxpayers erroneously received $88 million in education credits for students claimed as a dependent or a spouse on the other one's return. It was a double payment. 250 prisoners erroneously received over $255,000.
It says here that it was identified that a valid Social Security number is required for Federal student aid, but not for these educational credits.
That just blows me away. I know when we were talking about the child tax credit at one of the other hearings, that was told to us, that it was not a requirement that they have a Social Security number.
I am not sure how you track that when you do not have a Social Security number being used.
I want to go to trying to find ways to help you, what we can do, what kind of tools we can do and give you so you can have the authority to say we are not going to process this return, it does not have the proper information on there.
A Social Security number just seems like an easy thing to me, not sending it to a prison would seem like an easy thing, as well as making sure they attended the classes, or at least attended a college, and perhaps maybe a valid school EIN number would also help, to make sure that when those credits are being processed, that you have all the information to verify that truly they qualify for those.
Can you help me out with that?
*Mr. Shulman. Sure. Thanks for bringing it up and I appreciate the offer of help. We can always use help.
A couple of things. One is we have significantly stepped up our effort to crack down on fraud. Last year we stopped $14 billion in potentially either fraudulent or mistaken credits from going out the door.
The specific report that you referenced, I just want to point out a couple of things.
There was an Inspector General report a couple of years earlier that showed that there was huge error rate on the 1098's, which are the education reports we get.
While that report said there could have been that level of fraud, there is also a recognition that the documents they were using to match might not have been accurate documents, meaning the education institutions often do not send in the right information, so it is not always clear the student was not there, even though it came up.
With that said, the answer to what we can get to help, if we want to block a credit because we think there is not right documentation, if we do not have math error authority, we have to go through a full fledged audit, which is resource intensive, and it comes to people.
Even if we see an issue, if we do not have people who will follow up, answer the phone, engage with the taxpayer, we cannot block it, because we cannot change their return.
If we have math error authority tied to certain provisions, then we can block it and change the return without going through a full fledged audit.
We requested in this budget math error authority for a couple of things.
The second that you mentioned, prisoners, authorization for us to share information with prisons, so there can be a real punishment for a prisoner, like losing privileges or put in solitary confinement if they try to defraud the system, our authorization in Congress to actually share information back with prisons so we can have that kind of dialogue expired at the end of last year.
Re‑upping that authorization is another thing you all could do to help.
*Mrs. Black. This math error authority, you need to be given that. Is that by law?
*Mr. Shulman. Yes.
*Mrs. Black. We do have to change the law. Do you already have the authority to require there be a Social Security number on that form?
*Mr. Shulman. That is a whole different issue. Certain tax credits, you have to have a Social Security number. Certain tax credits, you do not.
The ones you are mentioning, you do not. It is not a requirement. If Congress decides that only people with Social Security numbers can get that credit, then that would have to be up to Congress. We cannot stop it because it is not a requirement at this point.
*Mrs. Black. Okay. I know some ways we can help you. Thank you.
*Mr. Shulman. Thank you.
*Chairman Boustany. [Presiding] Commissioner Shulman, good to see you. I apologize for arriving very late to this hearing.
Before I recognize Mr. Reed for his questions, I want to take a moment to recognize Floyd Williams for his 15 years of service at the IRS. I think it is a total of what, 35 years of Government service? Sir, we want to thank you as you move on to what I hope is a good retirement. Thank you for your service.
With that, Mr. Reed, you are recognized for five minutes.
*Mr. Reed. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Commissioner, for being here with us today.
Commissioner, I would like to explore ‑‑ I really try to rely on data when we make decisions here in Congress.
One thing that I have a concern with is on the enforcement initiatives, you have certain projections on return of investment for those enforcement initiatives.
I am sure you are familiar with the issue we are going to talk about here.
I believe for 2013 you proposed an enforcement initiatives' return on investment will be 1.9 to 1. 2015, you project, it is my understanding, the return on the investment for those enforcement initiatives will be 4.3 to 1.
Historically, I read some reports that projected that by 2012, there was supposed to be a 7.8 return on investment to a dollar.
Do you confirm those numbers, those estimates, those projections with actual data? If you do, how do you do that? If you do not, why do you not do that?
*Mr. Shulman. It is a great question. Let me give you how I think about return on investment and exactly what backs it up.
First of all, we are very conservative in the numbers we give you. The people that we know do those jobs, a rolling ten year average on the exact enforcement initiatives.
If we are going to hire 20 Grade 13 examiners for an excise tax, we look at ten year rolling average, how much revenue comes in directly from those people making adjustments that actually comes into the Treasury.
It is a look back ten year rolling average of those numbers.
I actually think those way understate the impact because the real game of running the tax system and the real objective is the $2.4 trillion that comes in every year, which most of those people we do not engage with in that kind of activity.
Our job is to run good service, so when people call, they get answers to questions. Compliance coverage where there is the most risk, so that if you get an audit, your neighbors know that you get an audit around specific issues and it drives voluntary compliance.
Another way to look at our numbers is a $12 billion budget, give or take, $2.4 trillion in revenue, every dollar invested brings you $200, or a smaller way to look at it is we have what we call our turk numbers, which are real dollars in the door every year.
Last year, it was about $55 billion. The year before, it was 57. The year before, it was 49. That is literally people go out, make an adjustment, people go through the adjudicatory process, and bring money into us. That is a 5 to 1 return.
The numbers you gave us are based on very specific activities in a granular way based on the kind of people that do those activities, looking back ten years, how does that tie to those turk numbers.
*Mr. Reed. Is it fair to say your testimony is they are based on actual data where you go back and confirm the numbers?
You are looking at actual data, when you project the 1.9 to 1 for 2013, return on investment, you will be able to show us at the end of 2013 the actual data that confirms whether or not you had an 1.9 to 1 return on investment?
*Mr. Shulman. I think we will be able to ‑‑ what I said was I think it is very good numbers. It is ten year rolling averages. I think things spike and they move, so this is an estimate.
2013 might not be exactly that. It might be higher in 2013 or lower, but over a ten year period, I think you are going to see it average out to be that amount.
*Mr. Reed. I guess that is my question. In 2012, it was projected to be a 7.8 to 1 return on investment. Was it 7.8? What was the number for 2012 on your enforcement initiatives' return on investment?
*Mr. Shulman. Again, I do not think you want to look at these things as year point in time, and you do not want to encourage us to do that.
What you want to encourage us to do is get the right resources that over time are going to drive the right taxpayer behavior.
These numbers are ones we certainly consult with GAO and OMB on. I think we are very comfortable with these numbers, and we have ongoing dialogue.
*Mr. Reed. You bring up a great point when you bring GAO into the conversation. My understanding in reading some of their materials is they are very concerned that you are not using actual data to confirm those projected return on investment numbers that you are giving to us.
*Mr. Shulman. I would not characterize it as very concerned. I think they have said we can together work on methodology, and we are actually having those staff conversations on a regular basis.
*Mr. Reed. Okay. You are working with GAO to come to some sort of ‑‑
*Mr. Shulman. Absolutely, but again, I feel very comfortable in our numbers, and if anything, I think they understate the return.
*Mr. Reed. I appreciate that. I appreciate the work you do, Commissioner, I really do. I appreciate all the work you do over there. It is a tough job.
*Mr. Shulman. Yes, I know. Thank you. These are great questions because we need to be accountable for delivering results.
*Mr. Reed. Thank you. With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
*Chairman Boustany. Thank you. Commissioner Shulman, again, welcome.
Does the IRS have available resources with the current budget to tackle new enforcement responsibilities? Do you have the resources available to take on new enforcement responsibilities?
*Mr. Shulman. Earlier I was saying we try to do the best we can with the budget that Congress gives us. Obviously, we have a big job to do, and we try to balance across the board all the things we do.
We have requested in the 2013 budget some new resources for some of the new legislation that has come through, and we are quite hopeful we will get that.
*Chairman Boustany. In reviewing the President's 2013 budget proposal, this proposes saddling the IRS with additional enforcement responsibilities by shifting alcohol and tobacco tax and trade bureau duties of enforcing tax provisions related to alcohol and tobacco to the IRS with no funding allocated in this budget to pursue those kinds of violations.
Is that something you have had internal discussions with others in the Administration about?
*Mr. Shulman. I am sorry, Mr. Chairman. What are you referring to in the budget? I do not think there is a major shift in the budget.
*Chairman Boustany. I think the 2013 budget proposes giving you additional enforcement responsibilities by shifting alcohol and tobacco tax and trade bureau duties to the IRS.
*Mr. Shulman. I should get back to you on this. I do not think there is a full shift proposed.
In the past, we have been reimbursed to have some of our investigators help them with some investigations, and that is what I am aware of that has happened in the past.
*Chairman Boustany. If you could just get me some clarification on that, I would appreciate it.
*Mr. Shulman. Sure.
*Chairman Boustany. One other question. It has come to my attention and I have gotten a number of letters just recently.
We have seen some recent press allegations that the IRS is targeting certain Tea Party groups across the country requesting what have been described as onerous document requests, delaying approval for tax exempt status, and that kind of thing.
Can you elaborate on what is going on with that? Can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting particular groups based on political leanings?
*Mr. Shulman. Thanks for bringing this up. I think there has been a lot of press about this and a lot of moving information. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify.
First, let me start by saying yes, I can give you assurances. As you know, we pride ourselves on being a non‑political, non‑partisan organization.
I am the only ‑‑ me and our chief counsel are the only presidential appointees, and I have a five year term that runs through presidential elections, just so we will have none of that kind of political intervention in things we do.
For 501(c)(4) organizations, which is what has been in the press, organizations do not need to apply for tax exemption. Organizations can actually hold themselves out as 501(c)(4) organizations and then file a 990 with us.
The organizations that have been in the press are all ones that are in the application process. First of all, I think it is very important to emphasize that all of these organizations came in voluntarily.
They did not need to engage the IRS in a back and forth. They could have held themselves out, filed a 990, and if we would have seen an issue, we would have engaged, but otherwise, we would not.
The basic rules around 501(c)(4) organizations are they need to be primarily engaged in promoting the common good and general welfare of their community. They can be involved in political and campaign activity, but it cannot be their primary purpose.
When people apply for 501(c)(4) status, what we do is engage them in a number of questions about making sure we understand their primary purpose around this and other sorts of engagement.
What has been happening has been the normal back and forth that happens with the IRS. None of the alleged taxpayers, and obviously, I cannot talk about individual taxpayers, and I am not involved in these, are in an examination process. They are in an application process, which they moved into voluntarily.
There is absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens when people apply for 501(c)(4) status.
*Chairman Boustany. Finally, is it fair to say that there has been no change in IRS practice with regard to what triggers audits and so forth with regard to tax exempt organizations as a whole?
*Mr. Shulman. So, as a whole, we have audits based on risk criteria, coverage requirements, et cetera. In the area of political activities, just to make extra sure that folks are very insulated, we actually have a committee of three career professionals who are not based in Washington, D.C., that any time an audit will be triggered because of potential political activity or if there is a referral from a Member of Congress and other kinds of things that could be viewed as political, that group of three actually first looks at it, so no single individual can launch an audit. It has to be agreement amongst three.
Then the decision would be made for an audit based on resources, risk, allegations, facts, et cetera, and it would be shipped out to an auditor to do that audit.
That has been the practice for many years for anything to do with political activity, and that is the practice now.
*Chairman Boustany. I thank you for your answer. Dr. McDermott, do you want to inquire? You may inquire.
*Dr. McDermott. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to shift the questions just a little bit or the issues you have been dealing with here.
I have a lot of LGBT clients or constituents. They have been approaching me about the problems of dealing with the IRS on how to file their income taxes, and are having the experience of having more than one source give them a different answer.
They are not quite sure ‑‑ they are spending some of them twice as much as a married couple would spend to get their income tax done. They have gotten married under the law, but suddenly, when they ask questions about certain things, it is just not clear what the answer is.
I am wondering, is there any single place or perhaps should there be a single place where they can call and find out the answer to a question or some place in the IRS where somebody takes this issue and begins to give definitive answers?
*Mr. Shulman. Great question. I am aware of the issue. We have actually tried to do a bunch.
First of all, it is a very complex issue for these taxpayers because under state law, these taxpayers have a different legal status than under Federal law, because of some of our Federal laws.
Under state law, they often split the income but under Federal law, they have to actually file separately.
We recognized there was a lot of confusion, so we actually consolidated and put a group together who worked and put out a whole set of frequently asked questions that answered a lot of these questions.
We realized that as laws have changed around the country, this has been an issue. We have been engaging with the community around this, and I think we have clarified a lot of questions.
Let me just say until you have state laws and Federal laws recognizing couples the same way, this is going to remain difficult for people.
Some of the things people have asked us to do, we cannot do under the law.
*Dr. McDermott. When they are filing their income tax federally, I suppose if you have a different thing at the state level, but federally, if they are doing it together, they cannot do it together. Is that what you are saying?
*Mr. Shulman. It all depends. Different states have different domestic partnership laws. State returns often piggy back on Federal returns, but recognizing couples as couples is different depending on which state and also Federal laws are different.
*Dr. McDermott. The piggy backing off the Federal tax return sort of works in reverse at the state level. They are going to have to change some state laws to actually make this rational.
*Mr. Shulman. It adds complexity to these taxpayers filing. We have tried very hard to make sure we do our job, like we do with all taxpayers, which is we have a set of taxpayers with specific issues, we get a team together. We worked on these things. We did outreach and engagement, and we tried to really clarify what we could clarify.
*Dr. McDermott. If I had a question, what number would I call to get the answer?
*Mr. Shulman. You would dial our 800 number.
*Dr. McDermott. That number should get you to somebody who will give you the same answer day after day, you will not get two different answers?
*Mr. Shulman. That is our hope. We track accuracy and consistency, and they are always in the high 90s.
*Dr. McDermott. All right. I appreciate that. It is an issue I hear from the District a lot, and I want to know what it is that you have tried to do, and we will see if we need to do something about it and we need to look at it.
*Chairman Boustany. With your indulgence, Commissioner Shulman, Mr. Becerra has one follow up question.
*Mr. Becerra. Mr. Chairman, thank you for generously allowing me to ask one last question.
Commissioner, two weeks ago, I sat down with my tax preparer and went over my taxes in preparation to file. He has been doing this forever. He is an enrolled agent. He is licensed and all the rest.
He said to me, you know, I was always supportive of what you all were doing with regard to the tax preparer's, trying to get us to be a more defined group.
He gets folks who come in to correct taxes that have been filed improperly by folks who prepared these things and charged people money and did it the wrong way.
He asked me a question. He said it seems to me like a lot of us who have done this for a long time are the ones that are being asked to go through the process to certify that we are competent and all the rest.
I said to him my sense is that everyone is going to be at some point touched by the IRS as it is moving toward the effort of trying to certify that folks are competent to be out there representing themselves as qualified preparer's of tax returns for money.
The Chairman was gracious enough to indulge me. I am wondering if you can tell us what the status is of the initiative at the IRS to try to help do the bird dogging, the oversight, of tax preparer's, and maybe respond to the question of who is being contacted in the tax preparer world by the IRS to follow up?
He said he had to go through some courses or programs to test his qualifications and so forth.
If you could just give us a quick sense of where things stand.
*Mr. Shulman. Sure. First, similar to what I talked about with the real time system, this is a big initiative. We had multiple public hearings around the country, vetted it with a report, put out regulations with lots of public comment, so we have had a lot of engagement with the preparer community around this.
This is really about partnering with the preparer community to make sure taxpayers are served well.
Status is we have had about 840,000 people apply and receive PTINs, which is preparer tax identification number. About 60 percent of those were not already an enrolled agent, a CPA, or a lawyer.
*Mr. Becerra. Wow.
*Mr. Shulman. Enrolled agents, your preparer and CPAs and lawyers who already had higher level qualifications, had already gone through their own set of competency testing, already had ongoing continuing education requirements, were not required to take the test, because they have already taken a test, or have continuing education.
Your preparer should not have had to take a test if he was already an enrolled agent.
We have about 840,000 people who have signed up. Last Fall, we started administering the competency examination, and we have a number of people through that.
One of our promises to the American people was that we were not going to cut out preparer services. We wanted to make sure people still could get service.
There are a lot of very competent preparer's who have been preparing returns for 20 to 30 years who have not taken a test in a while, so we gave them three years to pass the test.
People are now starting to pass the test. You do not actually become a registered tax return preparer until you pass the test. All you do is have the PTIN right now.
Now people are starting to move through the test, and we have had several thousand who have taken the test, and we expect that number to grow.
We started approving continuing education providers. This year, continuing education requirements kick in.
We are well on our way to move there. The last thing I would say is this filing season, we had the PTIN. We had CADE processing everything faster. We have a lot better data analytics.
We were able to look at preparer's who had really egregious problems with their returns, go out to them immediately, in late January, with visits, letters, phone calls, and really start to engage the preparer community to make sure they are treating taxpayers well.
We are very pleased with the status of the initiative, and that is a broad overview.
*Mr. Becerra. Thanks very much. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
*Chairman Boustany. Mr. Kind, you may inquire.
*Mr. Kind. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I apologize. I was a little bit late. I was tied up in another meeting.
Commissioner Shulman, thank you for your testimony and for the work you are doing. We really appreciate it.
Obviously, there are a lot of issues that are pending. I had a chance to review the National Taxpayer Advocate Report, and I am sure you all at the IRS pay attention to that as well.
Obviously, some of the disturbing trends that they see in that report is mainly the inadequacy of funding for the IRS in order to do your job adequately and serve the citizens of our country.
In particular, they were concerned because of funding cuts and the inadequacy of resources, what that means to the IRS' ability to address the non‑compliance issue.
The concern is it is only going to go wider, if there is a lack of confidence or belief in the IRS when it comes to compliance measures, it is only to exacerbate the situation.
Do you agree with what the report was stating in regards to enforcement of non‑compliance?
*Mr. Shulman. Well, we had budget cuts. We try to do the best we can with those budget cuts. We talked for a while before about service. We have not really talked a lot about compliance.
Clearly, we are doing less exam's this year, and we have to triage and find places. We are doing less collection activities. It is going to result in less money coming in than otherwise would have come in.
The big trend I am worried about is if we do not stem the tide in the 2013 and 2014 budget, you get to a point where there is enough news about compliance rates being so low, but still, a lot of people are going to pay their taxes because they are honest, hard working Americans, and they want to pay into the society they feel benefits them.
But if people want to push the envelope, which some do, and want to cut corners, if they think we are not on the job, then they will do so.
I think the general comments about you cannot have a long term trend of degrading compliance resources, because that really starts to hit voluntary compliance, and I think the specific of just less funding means less dollars in the door. That is simple math.
*Mr. Kind. Let me ask you a couple of questions. We are approaching the second anniversary of passage of the Affordable Care Act.
One of the provisions is they did allow tax credits to small businesses who do provide health care coverage for their workers, 35 percent this year. It is supposed to go to 50 percent in 2014 with the creation of the exchanges.
There are moments back home when some small business owners come to me and complain about the complexity of that tax credit and having to fill that out.
What is your opinion on that? Is that an item where the IRS or us working with you can try to simplify that process to make it easier for small businesses to qualify for that tax credit?
*Mr. Shulman. Yes. One, it is obviously an important tax credit for small businesses, to help them afford paying for health coverage for their workers, which is a key component of the Affordable Care Act.
I think it is a very complex credit. We have heard from a lot of practitioners and small businesses that the phase out's around that and other issues have made it very hard for people to (a) understand if they can hit the sweet spot where you get the credit, and (b) sometimes discourages people from actually taking advantage of the credit.
The President's budget actually has a simplification proposal in it, which works on the phase out's and other issues to make it hopefully much more attractive to small businesses, and Congress taking up and passing that, I think, would be beneficial.
*Mr. Kind. You think that makes a lot of sense, what the Administration has looked at and what they are proposing?
*Mr. Shulman. Yes.
*Mr. Kind. What about in 2014, with the exchanges, there is going to be a lot of credits for the individuals within the exchange market?
Is the IRS making preparations in order to deal with that, and are you on track?
*Mr. Shulman. Yes. We are making preparations. We are on track. The majority of the work we are doing and the people we have to hire is to build technology systems to interact with the state exchanges and the Federal exchange, so that an estimated 30 million people can get over a ten year period $400 billion of tax credits.
I testified yesterday before our Appropriations Committee. What I said to them is I understand there is heartfelt policy debate about the Affordable Care Act, and there are some Members of Congress who do not like it. There are members who like it.
The bottom line is come 2014, there is going to be a lot of constituents in every District who are going to expect a tax credit when they show up at the exchange, and we need to get funded appropriately in the 2013 budget to prepare for that.
We are on track. We are spending money now based on authorization that came through the bill, but we are going to need to get financial support because we have a big job to do.
Again, we are not involved in health policy. We are involved in moving the money to help make the law work.
*Mr. Kind. Thank you, Commissioner. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
*Chairman Boustany. You know, this broader question of the complexity of the Tax Code should give impetus to all of us to look at fundamental tax reform.
I know the Chairman has set that as a goal. I think it is something we should do in a bipartisan way.
Commissioner Shulman, thank you for appearing before us today. As is customary, please be advised that members may have additional questions that they may submit to you in writing, and those questions and your responses will be made part of the official record.
With that, we will conclude the Subcommittee hearing.
[Whereupon, at 10:39 a.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]