House passes series of bills to improve IRS

 House passes series of bills to improve IRS
© Greg Nash

The House on Wednesday easily passed bipartisan legislation designed to modernize the IRS by improving the agency’s customer service and information technology.

The votes came on the same day as the IRS’s new deadline for taxpayers to file their 2017 returns. The agency gave taxpayers a one-day extension to file after it experienced technical issues on Tuesday.

One of the IRS bills, which passed unanimously, focuses on customer service and enforcement. 

It would permanently extend the IRS’s free-file program that allows low- and middle-income taxpayers to use free tax-preparation software, establish an independent appeals office, and set a minimum income level for the IRS’s private debt-collection program. It also would rename the IRS commissioner the IRS administrator and require the administrator to submit a reorganization plan to Congress by Sept. 30, 2020.

A second bill, which passed by a vote of 414-3, focuses on updating the IRS’s cybersecurity and information technology. It would codify the IRS’s public-private partnership to fight identity theft and the role of the IRS chief information officer, expand the use of electronic tax-filing systems and allow the IRS to directly accept credit and debit card tax payments.

The bills have the support of Republicans and Democrats in the House and were crafted by members of the House Ways and Means Committee in both parties. 

But they also further Republicans’ goal of revamping the IRS following the passage of the GOP’s tax-cut law.

"With a new tax code, it is time for a redesign of our tax agency,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyJOBS for Success Act would recognize that all people have potential Smaller tax refunds put GOP on defensive Key author of GOP tax law joins Ernst and Young MORE (R-Texas) said. "This bipartisan legislation truly refocuses the IRS to make it a 'taxpayer first' agency.”

Lawmakers in both parties discussed Tuesday’s IRS systems failure while talking about the legislation.

House GOP Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryOvernight Energy: Solar installations dropped in 2018 | UN report says rising Arctic temperatures 'locked in' | Fiat Chrysler to recall 850K vehicles On The Money: Wells Fargo chief gets grilling | GOP, Pence discuss plan to defeat Dem emergency resolution | House chair sees '50-50' chance of passing Dem budget | Trump faces pressure over Boeing Lawmakers blast Wells Fargo chief over response to scandals MORE (N.C.), said the House’s consideration of legislation to improve the IRS’s technology just after the agency had technology issues shows that “God indeed has a sense of humor or a deep understanding of public policy.” 

He added that, the “glitch at the IRS is just the public acknowledgement of the desperate need that we know this agency has to be modernized.”

Rep. John LewisJohn Lewis Civil rights icon John Lewis after New Zealand mosque attacks: 'We cannot sow seeds of hatred' Why are Trump and Congress avoiding comprehensive immigration reform? Together, we carry on the age-old struggle for justice for all MORE (D-Ga.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, said the technical issues stress the need for more funding for the IRS, whose budget is significantly lower than it was in 2010.

“This experience showed the nation how important it is that Congress invest in the IRS system and operation,” he said.

A third IRS-related bill the House passed Wednesday, by a vote of 403-3, would direct the Justice Department to establish expedited review procedures in identity-theft cases involving impersonators of IRS agents.

The House also passed several smaller IRS bills on Tuesday by voice vote. These bills would, among other things, make the IRS’s voluntary income tax assistance program permanent, require the IRS to provide identity-theft victims with a single point of contact at the agency and require the IRS to provide 90 days notice when it’s closing a taxpayer assistance center. 

The bills passed Wednesday, as well as the bigger cybersecurity bill, will be added to the bigger taxpayer services bill when that measure is engrossed and sent to the Senate.

It’s not clear if or when the Senate will take up the package, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchNY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate MORE (R-Utah) said he appreciates the House’s efforts.

The administrative reforms included in the House bills are a welcome step forward,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to examining the proposals in more detail and working with my colleagues in Congress to implement these ideas.”