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CPA survey rates IRS, cites problems.


Tax practitioners complain the Internal Revenue Service suffers from communication problems and a lack of technical knowledge at its lower personnel levels, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of CPAs tax division. Courtesy and a willingness to resolve problems were listed as strong points.

The survey asked over 1,000 CPA tax practitioners to evaluate their experiences with the IRS and to state their general attitudes toward the agency.

The general attitude of more than half of the respondents to the agency was negative--either moderately or very unfavorable--almost identical to the attitudes these practitioners held three years ago. The attitude was also generally negative in the categories of communication with the IRS, audits, collections, appeals and interviews with IRS representatives.

"The problem areas seem to be the result of budgetary constraints that prevent adequate staff training," noted Donald H. Skadden, AICPA vice-president-taxation.

However, other comments made by practitioners indicated good responses, including courtesy and a willingness to resolve problems; both reflect emphasis the IRS has placed on these areas.

Most significantly, the CPAs surveyed blamed Congress for "the numerous, complex and constantly changing tax laws that have created a tax system that is extremely difficult for the IRS to effectively and consistently administer."

Practitioners also complained that IRS personnel, particularly collection personnel, "are frequently inexperienced and lack basic accounting and tax skills." They attributed this to the relatively low pay scale at the IRS. Additionally, several CPAs thought the IRS relied too heavily on automation.

Here's a sample of the findings for specific areas:

Communication. Computer-generated IRS notices only occasionally gave adequate explanations of tax adjustments and rarely gave precise explanations of the issues, tax practitioners said. While the notices were likely to raise valid issues, the matters were only occasionally resolved in a timely manner.

Audits. Most practitioners believe IRS personnel are competent to handle a case, and more than half think audits always or usually are handled efficiently. Similarly, a majority indicated they could always or usually contact an examiner's supervisor.

On the other hand, instances in which the IRS made adjustments after audits in favor of the taxpayer ranged from occasional to none. The CPAs reported their clients' confidence in the IRS's fairness was correspondingly low.

Audit personnel received fair to poor ratings in the areas of accounting skills and understanding the issues and laws, except for large audit case personnel, who rated fair to good.

Collections. In all comparisons between the performance of automated collection system personnel and field revenue officers, the CPAs rated the latter higher. The field revenue officers also rated higher in understanding the law. Inexperience was the reason most often cited for the ineffectiveness of the automated collection system personnel, while unreasonableness and inflexibility were the primary complaints against field revenue officers.

Appeals. Over 90% of those responding rated appeals officers excellent or good in the areas of courtesy and experience. The lowest rating for appeals officers concerned their impartiality.

The survey was conducted to help the Institute develop administrative and legislative recommendations for improving the federal tax process. Some of the results have been transmitted to the IRS for use by a research group engaged in planning for the 1990s.
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Article Details
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Author:Burge, Marianne
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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