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Democrats call for appointment of permanent IRS watchdog

Democrats call for appointment of permanent IRS watchdog
© Greg Nash

Two top Democrats on the House's tax-writing committee are pressing the Trump administration to promptly appoint a new permanent national taxpayer advocate ahead of the opening of the tax-filing season.

“This will be the first filing season the IRS will start without a permanent National Taxpayer Advocate in place in nearly 20 years," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices | Sturgis rally blamed for COVID-19 spread in Minnesota | Stanford faculty condemn Scott Atlas Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households MORE (D-Mass.) and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John LewisJohn LewisDemocrats lead in diversity in new Congress despite GOP gains Biden must look to executive action to fulfill vow to Black Americans The purposeful is political: Gen Z bowls over their doubters MORE (D-Ga.) said in a statement on Thursday.

"The Taxpayer Advocate is a lifeline for frustrated or financially distressed taxpayers who cannot resolve their problems through normal IRS channels," Neal and Lewis added. "This official plays a critical role advocating for the needs of everyday taxpayers facing challenges navigating our nation’s tax system."

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The national taxpayer advocate leads the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers resolve problems with the agency. The taxpayer advocate serves as the IRS's internal watchdog and makes recommendations to Congress about how the IRS could be improved so that it better serves taxpayers.

The previous permanent taxpayer advocate, Nina Olson, held the position from 2001 until July of last year, when she retired. Olson frequently testified before Congress and was widely admired from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

It is up to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBiden's Treasury pick will have lengthy to-do list on taxes On The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach MORE to appoint a new taxpayer advocate, in consultation with IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. The IRS put out a solicitation for applicants and interviewed several candidates last year, but no appointment has been announced.

The IRS said in a statement Thursday that it "continues to work with the Treasury Department on the selection of a permanent National Taxpayer Advocate for this important position."

"We hope to have a selection in the near future," the agency said.

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Neal and Lewis said on Thursday that they "expect the new appointee to meet the standards the position demands – the individual must be non-partisan, knowledgeable about the complexities of our tax system, and committed to fighting for and serving all taxpayers.”

Their statement comes less than one month before the Jan. 27 start date for the tax-filing season. This year's filing season is only the second time that people are filing their taxes under President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE's 2017 tax-cut law, and tax preparers reported seeing heightened levels of anxiety from their clients last year because they were uncertain about how they were impacted by the law. 

Neal and Lewis's statement also comes one day after acting National Taxpayer Advocate Bridget Roberts issued a report to Congress in which she pressed for the appointment of a permanent taxpayer advocate. Roberts said that acting leaders lack the authority to make major changes and often aren't taken as seriously as permanent leaders.

"Given the current crossroads at which the IRS finds itself, it is critical that a permanent National Taxpayer Advocate be appointed as quickly as possible to help ensure the IRS protects taxpayer rights and meets its obligations to taxpayers," Roberts wrote.

-- Updated at 3:41 p.m.