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Lofty billing: IRS commits to taxpayer bill of rights

In tax law as anywhere else in human affairs, rhetoric and reality may or may not be in alignment.

To be sure, high ideals are important. But there is a reason, after all, for the oft-repeated advice to "under-promise, over-deliver."

In this post, we will consider the recent announcement by the IRS of a bill of rights for taxpayers. Is it an exercise in overstatement or a genuinely meaningful action that is likely to have tangible benefits for taxpayers?

Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate has been arguing for the creation of charter of rights for taxpayers for many years. And we have noted those ongoing efforts in this blog.

Nearly a year ago, for example, in our June 28 post, we reported on Olson's concerns that chronic underfunding by Congress is undermining the IRS's ability to respect taxpayers by offering them an adequate level of customer service.

Some commentators have complained that calling the principles announced by the IRS a week ago a "bill of rights" is overblown. After all, the original Bill of Rights, consisting of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, contains grand commitments to lofty principles such as free speech and fair trials.

By contrast, the bill of rights for taxpayers issued by the IRS a week ago is much more modest. It contains points such as the right to quality service and the right to pay no more tax than is actually owed.

These things should already be self-evident. They should be self-evident egardless of whether there is a tax controversy in a particular case.

And so the taxpayer bill of rights is not really a grand constitutional exercise. Despite the rhetoric, it is more like a reminder to the IRS itself of what its core mission should be.

Source: IRS.gov, "IRS Adopts 'Taxpayer Bill of Rights,' 10 Provisions to be Highlighted on IRS.gov, in Publications," June 10, 2014

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