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 NealOn The Money: Mnuchin, Schumer in talks to strike short-term relief deal | Small businesses struggling for loans | Treasury IG sends Dems report on handling of Trump tax returns EXCLUSIVE: Treasury IG sends report to House Dems on handling of Trump tax returns Pressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.) and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John LewisJohn LewisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump: Tough times but progress being made John Lewis endorses Biden for president 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 MnuchinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Trump downplays need for widespread testing before reopening economy On The Money: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | More than 6M file for jobless benefits | Fed launches T in economic relief | Dems, Mnuchin in talks over next aid deal 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 TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license 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.