IRS Kicks off Its `Problem-Solving Days' on Saturday

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WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service begins its most visible response to taxpayer complaints -- "problem-solving days" -- starting Saturday in 33 cities, including Oklahoma City.

The tax agency hopes to handle at least some problems on the spot and send a message of a new commitment to personal attention.

Citizens can get the ear of IRS employees and talk about their lingering and unresolved tax problems, which could range from unresolved bills to errors with payments or IRS collection tactics. "Having a national day, it's almost the equivalent of a military stand down," said Phil Brand, a former IRS chief compliance officer now at the accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick. "I think it has a chance of being almost a seminal event for the service." Deputy Treasury Secretary Law-rence H. Summers agreed that beyond tackling taxpayer problems head-on, the sessions carry symbolic weight. "Over time, problem-solving days and steps like it, (such as) strengthening the taxpayer advocate, will create an IRS with a different culture," Summers said in Tuesday. The problem-solving days also allow the agency to present itself in a more positive light, particularly after Senate hearings into alleged IRS abuses last September. "This is our chance to show what we can do and to tell our own story," said Ellen Murphy, the IRS assistant director in Dallas. Nationwide, the IRS has received 1,600 calls from taxpayers inquiring about the problem-solving days, said Summers, who oversees the administration's efforts to overhaul the IRS. The IRS urges people to make appointments before Saturday so it can research cases beforehand. "One of the very encouraging things is with many of the calls, there wasn't a need to schedule an appointment because it was possible to work out the problem right then and there," Summers said. …