Tuesday, April 22, 2008

US Treasury Comprehensive Report on reducing the Tax Gap

For the game plan devised by the US Treasury- as reported in September 2006 - to reduce the tax gap in the USA...

Executive Summary In fiscal year 2005, Federal receipts totaled over $2.2 trillion. More than 95 percent of net receipts were collected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through its administration of the income, transfer and excise tax provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. The vast majority of these receipts is collected through our voluntary compliance system, under which taxpayers report and pay their taxes with no direct enforcement and minimal interaction with the government. The overall compliance rate achieved under this system is quite high.

In 2001, the compliance rate was over 86 percent, after including late payments and recoveries from IRS enforcement activities. Nevertheless, an unacceptably large amount of the tax that should be paid every year is not, requiring compliant taxpayers to make up for the shortfall and giving rise to the “tax gap.” The Administration is committed to working with Congress to reduce the tax gap.
This document outlines the Administration’s aggressive strategy for addressing the tax gap. The strategy builds upon the current efforts of the Treasury Department and the IRS to improve compliance. As part of the deliberations in preparing the Administration’s fiscal year 2008 budget request to Congress, the Treasury Department and the IRS are working with the Office of Management and Budget to further develop this strategy to reduce the tax gap.

This document is intended to provide a broad base on which to build. The more detailed elements of the tax gap strategy are, in part, contingent upon the budget process for fiscal year 2008 and beyond. Accordingly, the Treasury Department and the IRS will provide a more detailed outline of steps they will take to address the tax gap following release of the Administration’s fiscal year 2008 budget request early next year. Four key principles guided the development of this strategy:

• First, unintentional taxpayer errors and intentional taxpayer evasion should both be addressed.
• Second, sources of noncompliance should be targeted with specificity.
• Third, enforcement activities should be combined with a commitment to taxpayer service.
• Fourth, policy positions and compliance proposals should be sensitive to taxpayer rights and maintain an appropriate balance between enforcement activity and imposition of taxpayer burden.

These principles point to the need for a comprehensive, integrated, multi-year strategy to reduce the tax gap.

Our practical and effective overall strategy includes the following seven components:

1. Reduce Opportunities for Evasion. The Administration’s fiscal year 2007 budget includes five legislative proposals to reduce evasion opportunities and improve the efficiency of the IRS. The Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy is working with the IRS to develop additional legislative proposals for consideration as part of the fiscal year 2008 budget process. The Treasury Department and the IRS will also continue to use the regulatory guidance process to address both procedural and substantive issues to improve compliance and reduce the tax gap.

2. Make a Multi-Year Commitment to Research. Research is essential to identify sources of noncompliance so that IRS resources can be properly targeted. Regularly updating compliance research ensures that the IRS is aware of vulnerabilities as they emerge. New research is needed on the relationship between taxpayer burden and compliance and the impact of customer service on voluntary compliance. Research is also essential to establish accurate benchmarks and to measure the effectiveness of IRS efforts, including the effectiveness of this comprehensive strategy to reduce the tax gap.

3. Continue Improvements in Information Technology. Continued improvements to technology would provide the IRS with better tools to improve compliance through early detection, better case selection, and better case management.

4. Improve Compliance Activities. By improving document matching, examination, and collection activities, the IRS would be better able to prevent, detect, and remedy noncompliance. These activities would increase compliance not only among those directly contacted by the IRS, but also among those who would be deterred from noncompliant behavior as a consequence of a more visible IRS enforcement presence.

The IRS continues to reengineer examination and collection procedures and invest in technology, resulting in efficiency gains and better targeting of examination efforts. These efficiency gains translate into higher audit yields, expanded examination coverage, and reduced burden on compliant taxpayers.

5. Enhance Taxpayer Service. Service is especially important to help taxpayers avoid unintentional errors. Given the increasing complexity of the tax code, providing taxpayers with assistance and clear and accurate information before they file their tax returns reduces unnecessary contacts afterwards, allowing the IRS to focus enforcement resources on taxpayers who intentionally evade their tax obligations. The statutorily mandated Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint, the next phase of which is expected to be delivered in January, will include a process for assessing the needs and preferences of taxpayers and will develop a decision model to prioritize service initiatives and funding. The IRS is also working to provide service more efficiently and effectively through new and existing tools, such as the IRS web site.

6. Reform and Simplify the Tax Law. Simplifying the tax law would reduce unintentional errors caused by a lack of understanding. Simplification would also reduce the opportunities for intentional evasion and make it easier for the IRS to administer the tax laws.
For example, the Administration’s fiscal year 2007 budget includes six proposals to simplify the tax treatment of savings and families by consolidating existing programs and clarifying eligibility requirements.

The Office of Tax Policy is developing other simplification proposals for consideration in the Administration’s fiscal year 2008 budget request. In addition, the Treasury Department is evaluating the report of the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform and is considering options for reform. These initiatives will continue to be supplemented by IRS efforts to reduce taxpayer burden by simplifying forms and procedures.

Use the regulatory guidance process to address both procedural and substantive issues to improve compliance and reduce the tax gap.

7. Coordinate with Partners and Stakeholders. Closer coordination is needed between the IRS and state and foreign governments to share information and compliance strategies. Closer coordination is also needed with practitioner organizations, including bar and accounting associations, to maintain and improve mechanisms to ensure that advisors provide appropriate tax advice.
Through contacts with practitioner organizations, the Treasury Department and the IRS learn about recent developments in tax practice and hear directly from practitioners about taxpayer concerns and potentially abusive practices. Similarly, contacts with taxpayers and their representatives, including small business representatives and low-income taxpayer advocates, provide the Treasury Department and the IRS with needed insight on ways to protect taxpayer rights and minimize the potential burdens of compliance strategies.

The success of this comprehensive strategy will depend, in significant part, on IRS resources and the agency’s efficient and effective use of such resources. The IRS has made significant progress toward improving the efficient use of its allocated resources, especially in targeting enforcement efforts to areas where they will have the greatest direct and indirect impact on compliance. The IRS will continue to seek ways to make its operations more efficient and thus free resources to fund new compliance initiatives. In implementing this strategy, the Treasury Department and the IRS recognize that it will be important to establish benchmarks against which progress on each element of the strategy can be measured.

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