Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

IRS Picks on Poor for Audits, Plays Favorites, Agent Testifies Senate Panel Also Hears from Aggrieved Taxpayers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

IRS Picks on Poor for Audits, Plays Favorites, Agent Testifies Senate Panel Also Hears from Aggrieved Taxpayers

Article excerpt

An IRS agent from Texas told the Senate on Wednesday that low-income taxpayers were being singled out for audits and that agents were told to steer clear of friends of agency higher-ups.

"I have actually witnessed IRS management manipulate income tax return figures just to increase their office or division collection statistics," said Jennifer Long, a 15-year Internal Revenue Service employee now working as a revenue agent in the Houston office.

Long also told the Senate Finance Committee that some of her colleagues "have been instructed by IRS management not to conduct audits of particular taxpayers who happen to be personal friends of someone in IRS management." Frank Keith, a spokesman for the IRS, said he could not discuss Long's specific allegations but added that the conduct she described "would be absolutely improper. That behavior should be reported to the inspectors." Long testified on the second day of hearings into IRS collection practices and taxpayer abuses. Earlier in the day, the committee heard emotional testimony from taxpayers who told of abuses by IRS auditors and serious billing errors that lingered for years. Amid the criticism, the IRS prepared to announce a series of changes to improve its customer relations. Acting IRS Commissioner Michael P. Dolan will tell the committee today that the IRS will no longer rank its district offices in terms of their collections, said an IRS official who declined to be identified. This change responds to repeated testimony that IRS employees were pressured to meet collection quotas, which were outlawed in 1988. In addition, the IRS will order its district directors to conduct a new review of complaint letters for any patterns of misconduct. And IRS districts will begin holding monthly "problem-solving days," where taxpayers will have face-to-face meetings with IRS staff to resolve problems. Top IRS executives and law enforcement officials will be called to Washington within a month to review the Finance Committee's findings, the official said. A series of harried taxpayers, accountants, lawyers and others portrayed the IRS on Wednesday as an uncaring, arrogant agency with workers who will go so far as to fabricate cases to collect taxes that are not due. A New York priest, a Delaware contractor and a California bank worker were among those who related Kafkaesque experiences in which tax agency personnel and computers pursued them for years, ignoring evidence of innocence and even actual payments, seizing their assets and generally wreaking havoc in their lives. "The IRS is judge, jury and executioner - answerable to none," said Katherine Lund Hicks of Apple Valley, Calif. Hicks testified that she was hit with $7,000 in back taxes stemming from a divorce and saw the amount balloon to $16,000 while the IRS sent notices only to her former spouse. …

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