Report: IRS's English not always plain

The IRS needs to do a better job keeping it simple with taxpayers, according to a new federal audit.

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Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration found that the IRS generally did a good job complying with the Plain Writing Act, a 2010 law that requires federal agencies to make official communications easy to understand.

But the inspector general also found that the IRS doesn’t have a full list of all the letters and messages it sends to taxpayers, making it difficult to know how clearly the agency is communicating.

The watchdog also said that half the letters and two-thirds of the notices it examined either weren’t written clearly or didn’t give enough information.

“The IRS mails more than 200 million letters and notices each year to individual and business taxpayers to help them understand and meet their tax obligations,” Russell George, the tax administration inspector general, said in a statement. 

“Not only does it make good business sense, but the law requires clear government communications that the public can understand and use.”

Agency officials say they have tried to inventory all the messages they send out, but that the sheer number makes that difficult. The IRS office that corresponds with taxpayers also has 44 separate systems it uses to craft letters or notices to taxpayers.

Even so, the IRS said it would be a waste of limited resources for the agency to try to catalog all the different types of correspondences.

The inspector general did say that the IRS had made strides in some areas to comply with the Plain Writing Act, including by increasing training for staffers and corresponding differently with taxpayers and tax professionals.