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IRS Commissioner touts the tax agency's generational digital transformation

IRS Commissioner Werfel at Kogod Center AU March 25 2024_CSPAN screenshot

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Danny Werfel recently spoke to a group of students, faculty, and IRS guests at the Kogod Tax Center at American University in Washington, D.C., revealing what has been dubbed the IRS' generational digital transformation plan.

That plan is part of what the Biden Administration said it expects from the federal tax agency when it offered Werfel the commissioner job in the fall of 2022.

"They told me, the next commissioner could lead the IRS through the most important tech-enabled transformation of a government agency in U.S. history," said Werfel. "So again, my jaw dropped to the floor. And I will be honest with you, part of me wondered if this might be a bit of hyperbole, something of a sales pitch to get me to throw my hat in the ring for the job. Today, I will show you that this was no exaggeration."

Werfel's March 18 address, which came in the week that the 50th IRS commissioner marked his first anniversary as the head of the tax agency, gets this weekend's Saturday Shout Out.

Expectations of younger taxpayers: Werfel told the mostly young audience that they were the prime motivation for the current and coming IRS changes.

Quotation-marks-quote"As I consider the world you live in and what you have come to expect to do digitally – on your phone and tablets, without paper, from wherever you are in the world – I have come to realize that the modernization of the IRS is a generational imperative.

But ensuring the IRS stays pace with an ever-increasing digital world is just part of the imperative.  Our race to catch up with the modern economy, if we complete it, will unlock three critical results.

First, it unlocks our ability to ensure access, engage in communities, and make tax administration work better.

Second, it unlocks our ability to increase accountability for those that seek to inappropriately exploit the tax system.

And third, it unlocks our ability to restore trust and increase fairness in the IRS and the tax system."

I'll let you watch the C-SPAN2 video of Werfel's full digital tax talk at your leisure, because what's more relaxing on a weekend than hearing about taxes? The event starts about a minute into the tape, and after Werfel wraps up his presentation, there is a question-and-answer session that starts around the 28 minute mark.

Or, if you prefer, you can read Werfel's prepared remarks released by the IRS.

Improving the IRS for all the Homers: But before I head off to my non-taxing Saturday plans, I did want to share one other part of Werfel's remarks.

In discussing the vital role of the IRS in collecting the revenue necessary for so many of the things that make life in America possible — "keep our food safe, our skies safe, our roads safe" to name a few — Werfel said he was left with one burning question.

Why does Homer Simpson not like us?

Hint, and not a spoiler to long-time IRS observers, customer service problems are part of it. You can watch Werfel's fuller answer by clicking on the first star in the C-SPAN2 video's navigation bar.

Funding key to digital advances: The commish also used Homer's anti-IRS sentiment to discuss why the agency's digital transformation, and funds to keep it going, are necessary.

The added Inflation Reduction Act funds, said Werfel, "are catalyzing a new era for the IRS. The era of unprocessed returns filling hallways and rooms is ending. We’re ushering in a new era of a digital tax system."

Also benefiting from the funds are IRS phone centers and Taxpayer Assistance Centers across the United States.

And then there are the new digital IRS options.

"We've launched more digital tools in the last two years than we were able to launch in the previous 20," said Werfel.

"And sometimes it's the little things, like that this filing season we added a call back option on our main 1-800 number, ending the era of taxpayers being required to stay on hold listening to elevator music," said Werfel. Yes, that is cheering you're hearing across the internet!

"When you are funded, you can make these types of improvements," said Werfel. "When you are not, your operations remain in the past."

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