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We like bill collectors better

First, let me say the "we" in the headline is just the general pronoun; the "royal we," if you will.

Neither I nor anyone I know likes bill collectors better than anyone or anything else.

Markeverson_irs_2 But IRS Commissioner Mark Everson told a Congressional panel on Tuesday that some IRS customers, aka taxpayers, do feel that way.

Specifically, the commish told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight that studies indicate when it comes to bringing in unpaid tax bills, customer satisfaction with the efficiency of the private collection agencies is ranked as "good" when compared to satisfaction with collection by the IRS's own employees.

Talk about a morale buster!

I'm sure you all recall that last September, three private debt collection agencies, known as PCAs in IRS acronymese, started going after the unpaid tax bills run up by about 12,000 people. As of a month ago, according to Everson, these agencies had collected $14.47 million.

Despite the dollars brought in, many in Congress are still not happy with the outsourcing program and the 25 percent commission that the firms receive. Everson once again admitted that "the IRS could do this work cheaper."

But he said given current personnel limitations, the IRS lacks the resources to pursue the geographically dispersed cases that are farmed out to the PCAs. He expects that the PCA partnership will ultimately take care of more than 2 million delinquent tax cases.

And then there were two: The PCA program itself, however, is not without personnel issues.

When the three collection agency contracts came up for renewal earlier this month, the Austin-based firm was dropped. The official word is that it was at the mutual agreement of both sides. Everson said his agency believes it can get the job done with just the two remaining collection firms.

And even though the debt collectors reportedly are getting higher marks than IRS employees, Everson acknowledged that there have been complaints. Everson characterized them as "limited number," around several dozen. But the IRS does consider some of the complaints serious and Everson assured lawmakers that his agency is "following up on each of them."

The IRS better take care of those unhappy customers, because it looks like the agency still has to deal with some unhappy lawmakers, too.

Oversight subcommittee member Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.) made it clear that he was not convinced by Everson's testimony and that he wants all tax collection activity restricted to IRS staff.

He's not alone. IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has made clear her disapproval of the program. Both the House and Senate have introduced  measures that would put an end to all outside collection efforts.

Similar anti-PCA legislation was introduced last year, but didn't make it into law before the 109th Congress adjourned. But with the new 110th Congress in town, the effort might get more traction this time.


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I hope that the collectors are following the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act - whether IRS employees or private agencies. Laws should not be allowed to be discarded just because the government is involved.

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