“Complexity of Tax Law” Not a Challenge for IRS?

What challenges are the IRS facing this year? Apparently not the complexity of the Tax Code.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released its perspective two weeks ago on the most serious management and performance challenges confronting the IRS. The top 10 challenges in order of priority are:

  1. Modernization;
  2. Security;
  3. Tax Compliance Initiatives;
  4. Implementing Tax Law Changes;
  5. Providing Quality Taxpayer Service Operations;
  6. Human Capital;
  7. Erroneous and Improper Payments and Credits;
  8. Globalization;
  9. Taxpayer Protection and Rights; and
  10. Leveraging Data to Improve Program Effectiveness and Reduce Costs.

In TIGTA’s twelve page memo (downloadable here as a pdf), the agency offers an assessment of the major IRS management challenge areas for fiscal year 2010.

“Complexity of the Tax Law” did not appear on this year’s list of challenges. TIGTA felt that the IRS had bigger fish to fry.

Not surprisingly, TIGTA found that many of the IRS Modernization Project milestones were “significantly over budget” and “significantly behind schedule.” That would explain why it ranks first on the list of challenges faced by IRS.

Also a top challenge? Taxpayer data security. Identity theft is a growing concern as more and more taxpayer data is stored in IRS computer systems and transmitted online. The IRS has demonstrated, through internal audits, that there are concerns with respect to both accessing private data and the stability of the data at IRS sites. Additionally, phishing and other targeted taxpayer scams are on the rise, which is an area of serious concern.

Another challenge worth noting: taxpayers with international activities. It’s no surprise to see this on the list considering the emphasis that the current administration is putting on offshore accounts. As US revenues shrink, US corporate revenues abroad are growing. In fact, TIGTA reports that US-based corporations more than tripled their foreign profits between 1994 and 2004, from $89 billion to $298 billion. Yet, considerably more than half of those profits were earned in low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions. Tracking that income is a serious concern to the acting Commish.

It’s always interesting to see what shows up on the list as top tax concerns. It often serves as a heads up to targeted enforcement practices and other shifts in policy. However, I have to say, this go around, I still can’t wrap my head around tax complexity not remaining a top issue. It’s a huge issue. Maybe the bigger problem is that we’ve become nearly apathetic to the cause. Perhaps it’s so complex that we don’t even think about it anymore? Kind of how we don’t even blink when we hear the word “billion” nowadays. The Code is not becoming less complex, maybe we’re just getting used to it.