The effect of the IRS district office reorganization on corporate taxpayers.
Much has been said and written about the Internal Revenue Service reorganization since it was announced in May 1995. In 30 of the current 63 districts, the positions of District Director, Assistant District Director, and Division Chiefs, as well as some Branch Chief positions, will be eliminated. In some districts this has occurred already, but in all of the affected districts it must happen by no later than October 1, 1996. According to the Service, 'these changes are intended to streamline the management and management support of field operations," reduce overhead, and provide the flexibility to make better use of [the IRS'S] resources and to better serve [its] customers and address non-compliance."
It will take initiative and effort on the part of professional organizations such as Tax Executives Institute to create new relationships with the district management in the reconfigured districts after their existing local management-level contacts are gone. Access to the District Director in the new districts may prove to be difficult. Distance and time become obstacles. Professional groups may find it difficult to make their voices heard at the high level within the IRS to which such organizations have become accustomed. It also seems clear that some TEI chapters will no longer align with IRS districts.
The reconfigured districts will, of course, have a District Director, but he or she may be located hundreds of miles farther away from a particular taxpayer than is currently the case. The District Director's attention can become spread thin over many new and, perhaps, unfamiliar problems. For example, the current Milwaukee, Des Moines, and Omaha districts will constitute the new Midwest District. The District Director will be located in Milwaukee, which is almost 400 miles from Des Moines and more than 500 miles from Omaha. Similarly, the St. Paul, Fargo (North Dakota), and Aberdeen (South Dakota) districts will be combined to form the North Central District, with its headquarters in St. Paul. The most glaring example is the new Rocky Mountain District, headquartered in Denver, which will encompass, in addition to the Denver District, the present-day Boise, Helena, Salt Lake City, and Cheyenne districts.
The Roles of TEI and its Members
District Directors are continuously striving to improve communications and relationships between the IRS and tax professionals. With many districts doubling or even tripling in size, however, the Directors will have a difficult time maintaining existing levels of personal involvement, let alone forging new relationships. Taxpayers, however, should seek the same level of customer service they are currently receiving. Accordingly, professional groups such as TEI and their members must: (1) be watchful for an loss of top-level availability, (2) seek out and meet with the new district managers to establish new contacts and discuss expectations and areas of mutual concern early on, and (3) let the District Director know when problems arise.
The vigilance and involvement of Professional organizations such as TEI are crucial, since their members deal with the IRS on a continuing basis and thus will be able to identify trends or repeated problems that individual taxpayers, who deal with the IRS only occasionally, will fail to notice.
The IRS has been, and still is, concerned about providing excellent service to all taxpayers. Nevertheless, because of the magnitude of the organizational changes that are already occurring, and will continue to occur over the next year or so, the potential for slippage in service and personal attention from top-level district management is very real. Three of the most important potential problem areas - access to management, communication, and attitude - are discussed below. Other signs of trouble that TEI members should be watchful for include:
* deviation from the IRS'S goal of providing "one-stop service," evidenced by being transferred from place to place or person to person, and repeatedly having to explain your issue, question, or situation; * an excessive amount of time being taken to resolve problems; and * lengthening response times, especially in the Problems Resolution Program area.
Access to Management
If TEI members are not able to meet or converse with district executive-level managers as often as in the past and feel it is hurting their working relationships with the IRS, they should bring it to the attention of the National Office. Once working relationships break down, communication, the spirit of cooperation, commitment to quality, timeliness, and customer service all generally suffer.
Establishing and maintaining good lines of communication is crucial. If TEI members notice any change in either their ability to get information from the IRS or the IRS'S ability to distribute information in a timely manner, they should voice their concerns. Monitoring of the quality of communication should not be limited to case-related work, but should also include the IRS'S ability and willingness to disseminate information on policy, tax law, and procedural issues, and its willingness to provide input to practitioner newsletters, provide speakers, and conduct educational seminars. TEI members should be alert for any delays in the release of information and any unresponsiveness to requests for advice or clarification regarding IRS or tax-related issues.
The many changes that IRS employees are currently experiencing are perceived by many employees as involuntary or forced' changes. Forced change is often the most difficult type of change for people to deal with, particularly when such change is coupled with budget cuts that affect both the working conditions of employees and the ability of management to support front-line workers. Any decline in taxpayer service or the quality of the IRS'S work may first manifest itself in the attitudes of IRS employees or management. If employees become dissatisfied or encounter problems with their work environment or working conditions caused by the reorganization, the byproducts may be a decline in the quality of their work product or perhaps even a lack of concern for customer service.
A changing organization always needs both internal support and support from its outside stakeholders, particularly customers. As the IRS'S customers, TEI members should support the reorganization of the IRS because it is happening right now, and will happen with or without TEI's involvement. Effective and responsible support on the part of TEI and its members, however, requires that they be watchful to ensure that one of the IRS'S principal intentions of the reorganization - to better serve its customers - is met.
GEORGE A. O'HANLON is National Director of Federal Tax Examinations in the Washington National Tax Services office of Price Waterhouse LLP. MICHAEL A. URBAN is a Senior Manager in the same office.
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|Author:||Urban, Michael A.|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1996|
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