Audit: Taxpayer advocate prone to errors

The National Taxpayer Advocate committed mistakes in a majority of cases where an IRS foul-up had caused problems for taxpayers, according to a new federal audit.

Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration found that the taxpayer advocate, an independent watchdog within the IRS, slipped up in 57 of the 100 cases it examined.

In nine of those cases, the advocate made communication errors, including directly contacting a taxpayer incorrectly or wrongly disclosing case information to unauthorized people.

The audit also found that the advocate made processing errors in 54 of the 100 cases – leading the inspector general to project that there were those sorts of mistakes in more than 56,000 cases in fiscal 2012, out of more than 104,000 systemic burden cases in all.

Some of the 100 cases, the inspector general said, had more than one mistake.

On top of that, the inspector general said that, in 52 of 100 cases, the advocate’s office incorrectly put information into their computer systems.

The taxpayer advocate also took cases that could have been funneled to elsewhere in the IRS, the audit found – a choice that’s up to the advocate’s office, but can also increase the watchdog’s workload.

The inspector general offered eight recommendations to the taxpayer advocate, several of which dealt with beefing up training or guidance for advocate employees.

The advocate’s office agreed with seven of those recommendations, but did not believe it needed to take another look at its policies for taking cases that could be routed elsewhere within the agency.

Nina Olson, the taxpayer advocate, said in response to the audit that she believed the office “has performed well in processing the high volume of cases.”

But she added: “I acknowledge there is room for improvement.”