When the Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson addressed Congress at the end of 2015, she stressed that the IRS Future State plan required transparency and open discussion to succeed. In early 2016, she began hosting a series of forums that invited taxpayers and tax professionals alike, gathering ideas and suggestions from both groups to determine what types of services the IRS needs to provide. With the growing attention Olson has drawn to the Future State, it should come as no surprise that the 26th annual IRS Nationwide Tax Forums will add sessions discussing it in July.
The “IRS Future State initiative” is how the IRS describes its effort to improve the way that taxpayers and tax professionals interact with the agency. To date, that has meant written correspondence, face-to-face meetings, phone service, and, of course, online service. While all of these avenues have proven essential to serving the public in the past, online service has unsurprisingly become a principle focus of the Future State.
In 2015, Pew Research found that 85% of American adults use the Internet: a number that apparently did not change much over a three-year period. As an increasingly ubiquitous commodity, it makes sense that the IRS would set their sights on online logins, tools, and the like. The language they use to describe the Future State underscores the need to increasingly focus on online accessibility:
As the needs of … the nation continue to rapidly evolve, it's clear the IRS needs to look at the future in a more comprehensive way.
We need to take advantage of the latest technology to enhance the entire taxpayer experience. And we need to do that in a way that meets the needs of taxpayers and the tax community in an efficient and effective manner.
The Taxpayer Advocate’s 2015 report indicated that the Future State, at least at that time, was going to severely reduce phone service. On its face this might seem to be a logical evolution due to increased access to and use of online services. However, she worried that there had not been enough data collected to dispense with phone service, leading her to conclude that the public – both taxpayers and tax professionals – needed to be consulted on what services were needed.
The Nationwide Tax Forums, alongside the Taxpayer Advocate Forums, exemplify what Olson believes to be the ideal mission for the IRS: a service-based, customer-first business model. In this way, adding discussion of the Future State to the Nationwide Tax Forums itinerary fits perfectly.
A series of five three-day events, the forums feature training seminars and workshops focused on informing tax preparers about current federal- and state-related tax topics. This year, there are more than 40 individual sessions covering a wide variety of issues – including the Future State – but the purpose of the forums isn’t purely academic.
While good for learning the latest industry issues, the Nationwide Tax Forums, aside from presenting an opportunity to network with peers, can also help tax pros address immediate, practical concerns, like earning continuing professional education (CPE) credits, getting help with a difficult client case, and finding services and software to help streamline your office workflow.
According to the IRS, attending EAs and CPAs can earn up to 19 hours of CPE at each of the five forum locations – and some of the seminars, if approved by the Certified Financial Planner Board, might help CFPs earn CPE. Even if you’ve already satisfied the continuing education requirements for your professional certification, you can sign up for an appointment with the IRS Client Case Resolution Program that boasts a 97 percent success rate or tour tax-related vendor booths at the two-day expo in the Exhibit Hall.
If you are able to attend one of the five Nationwide Tax Forum events, then you may have an opportunity to sit in on the IRS Future State session. It’ll be interesting to see what shape the Future State takes: to what degree phone support is scaled back in favor of more online offerings or if the agency simply bulks up all services. You’ll also have a chance to earn CPE and prepare for next tax season.