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Improve the IRS by joining the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

TAP member staffing info table at IRS Forum
Taxpayer Advocacy Panel members provide information on how to improve the IRS at the agency's annual Tax Forums. (Photo courtesy TAP News)

How many times, perhaps times per day, have you said, "If I were in charge, I'd do things differently."

Now's your chance to follow up on that, at least when it comes to how U.S. taxpayers interact with our tax system and the agency that administers it.

Become a member of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, or TAP as it's called, and improve the Internal Revenue Service.

My personal TAP dance: I can hear the skepticism coming through the intrawebz. Improve the IRS. Really? Yes, really.

I know because I've been there.

Volunteers unite to improve IRS: The TAP is a federal advisory committee that listens to taxpayers, identifies major taxpayer concerns and makes recommendations for improving IRS service and customer satisfaction.

It's a valuable volunteer group and one on which I was honored to serve back in the mid-2000s. My years on the panel allowed me to meet many like-minded tax people, from fellow taxpayers who simply want to make things better to practitioners who deal with the complexities to Internal Revenue Service staff who understand the internal hurdles.

TAP video screenshop seeking new members 2020

The one thing that united all of us then and still bonds TAP is that everyone was and is committed to helping make all of our tax interactions more efficient and taxpayer friendly.

Is it easy? Not always. Do changes occur quickly? Usually not.

But improvement in IRS interactions and processes is possible as long as folks are willing to dedicate time and effort toward necessary tax improvements.

TAP background and goal: TAP reports annually to the Secretary of the Treasury, the IRS Commissioner and the National Taxpayer Advocate. The Taxpayer Advocate's office, in fact, provides support for and oversight of TAP.

TAP's membership goal is to have participants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, along with one member representing international taxpayers. For TAP's purposes, international taxpayers are broadly defined to include U. S. citizens working, living or doing business abroad or in U.S. territories.

Each TAP member is appointed to a three-year term, during which they represent the interests of taxpayers in their geographic location, as well as taxpayers overall.

In addition to the regional groups, TAP also has issue-specific project committees and a Joint Committee. These committees work directly with the IRS to provide observations or recommendations on issues and areas for improvement and then monitor the status and progress of issues.

Many TAP members come to the panel with list, some quite long, of issues they want to see addressed. But the panel also conducts regular outreach to get more ideas from the public on ways to improve our tax paying system.

New members needed: Each year, TAP seeks members from across the United States to fill expiring terms on the panel.

"To meet the needs of the taxpaying public, it is critical that the IRS listen to taxpayers to hear what their needs and preferences are," said Bridget T. Roberts, the Acting National Taxpayer Advocate, in announcing this year's search for new TAP members. "The citizen volunteers who serve on the TAP hear from taxpayers and then bring their collective voice and recommendations to the IRS."

This year's TAP search began this week and will continue through March 30. Those who are selected to serve will begin their three-year terms starting this December. I can't think of a better holiday present for tax aficionados!

TAP video screenshop service expectations

To maintain its nationwide representation, TAP currently is seeking new full-time panel members from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

In addition, TAP also needs alternate members. These folks will be considered to fill any vacancies that open in their areas during the next three years.

Alternate TAP positions are available in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

To meet federal advisory committee balanced membership requirements, the TAP is encouraging applicants from under-represented groups, such as Native Americans and non-tax professionals, to apply.

TAPping into the process: The application process is the same for both full and alternate TAP posts.

To be a member of the TAP, a person must be —

  • a U.S. citizen,
  • current with federal tax obligations (No, being on TAP doesn't get you any special tax breaks or payment considerations),
  • able to commit 200-to-300 volunteer hours during the year (That's around 16-to-25 hours per month on TAP projects, from periodic in-person meetings to a lot of conference calls.) and
  • able to pass an FBI criminal background check. (Yes, I was fingerprinted, the old-fashioned messy ink way back in my TAP application days.)

I also want to stress that you don't have to be a tax professional to join, although that profession is welcome. I've learned, both as a journalist and tax geek, that sometimes the best insights about an issue come from people who aren't so-called experts on it. The TAP knows that, too, so don't be dissuaded from applying if you don't do taxes for a living.

As for tax practitioners who want to serve, I am impressed by your energy and ability to balance filing season and other activities. So is TAP, as long as you're in good standing with the IRS. That means you're not currently under suspension or disbarment. Yes, those things have to be explicitly said nowadays.

Also, while TAP members get guidance and assistance from the folks with the Taxpayer Advocate Service, current Department of the Treasury or IRS employees cannot serve on the panel.

And if you're a former Treasury or IRS employees or, like me, previously served on TAP, there must be at least a three-year gap from that prior work/service in order to considered for appointment to the panel.

You can find more info about the TAP or the application process at ImproveIRS.org . If you want to talk to someone about the panel, call toll-free (888) 912-1227 and select prompt number five. Callers outside the U.S. may call (214)-413-6523 (sorry, not a toll-free call) or email the TAP staff at taxpayeradvocacypanel@irs.gov.

The Taxpayer Advocate's Office also has a video with more info on TAP — those are screenshots from it you see scattered in this post — and how to contribute to this dynamic group of volunteers.

Walk beyond tax talk: Again, if you're interested in making all our tax paying lives better, please consider joining TAP.

It's always so easy to complain about things. Oh boy, is it easy. The ways to do so have increased inordinately, thanks in large part to social media.

That's why folks who actually back up their talk by walking the walk deserve all the props or dap or whatever the kids today are calling ultimate respect.

All my kudos go to those who join TAP, giving of their own time for no pay to help improve our tax system.

I like to feel like I'll always be a TAP member and not just because I see my personal reminder of my years on the panel, pictured below, every time I go into my office.

My TAP memoribilia_cropped-redacted
Yes, I redacted my first name. I've never used it, thanks to my grandmother. And a gal, even a blogger, still is allowed some privacy!

More than that physical display, my TAP memories of working with others from across the country who want to make all things tax better still give me hope and confidence that the IRS can indeed be improved.

Good luck to all who apply for TAP. And many thanks for wanting to serve and to all who are lucky enough to join this great group of volunteers.

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