October 1, 1997 in Nation/World

Irs Schedules Face-To-Face Gripe Sessions Nov. 15 District Managers Will Be Put In Closer Contact With The Public

Ralph Vartabedian Los Angeles Times
 

In response to an outpouring of taxpayer wrath in Senate hearings last week, the Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday it will open its doors nationwide on Nov. 15 to any taxpayer with a beef.

All 33 IRS district directors have been ordered to meet in person with the public in an unprecedented effort to relieve taxpayer frustration.

The agency plans to continue holding such open-door complaint sessions once a month, said Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, answering critics who have disparaged the IRS as an insulated bureaucracy.

Arrangements for the coast-to-coast event - dubbed National IRS Problem-Solving Day - still are being made, but IRS officials said they will have more than enough staff members on hand and do not expect long lines.

“Taxpayers will be able to go to 33 locations around the country to discuss their problems face to face with IRS personnel,” Rubin said. “We will then hold a similar day once each month, which will give taxpayers a chance individually to resolve the problems long before they reach (what) we saw last week.”

In public hearings, the Senate Finance Committee heard from four taxpayers who were hounded in error for up to 17 years by IRS agents. Agency officials issued a public apology and acknowledged that serious errors had occurred.

Acting IRS Commissioner Michael Dolan said Tuesday the agency has suspended four managers while it investigates the cases of abuse and mistreatment.

“A permanent discipline, if warranted, will occur after the investigation is complete,” Dolan said.

He also released a letter asking the congressional General Accounting Office to help investigate allegations of illegal and unethical abuse of taxpayers.

The complaint sessions mark a significant departure from traditional IRS practices in which the public seldom has personal contact with the agency - unless it involves a seizure of assets for delinquent taxes.

Similarly, IRS district directors have maintained low profiles in the communities where they serve - despite wielding enormous power. With his signature, a district director, for example, can order the seizure of a family’s home.

The complaint sessions are meant to bring district directors in closer contact with the public so they can better understand where the tax system has gone astray, Dolan said.

Nov. 15 was selected because it falls on a Saturday, giving taxpayers the opportunity to deal with their problems without missing work, IRS officials said.

In some of the more crowded urban areas, including New York City and Los Angeles, the IRS may institute a reservation system to handle complaints, while in less crowded districts, taxpayers will be free to walk in, IRS officials said.

They said they are unsure how big an outpouring to expect. The agency handles 115 million individual tax returns each year, meaning that each district office has more than 3 million taxpayers under its jurisdiction. If even a small percentage of taxpayers have a complaint, it could add up to a throng.

But the agency noted that 75 percent of taxpayers file relatively simple tax returns and receive tax refunds, indicating that the vast majority of Americans have no beef with the agency.


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