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Conference Tomorrow on Improving the Tax System Through Technology and Social Knowledge

Posted on Nov. 17, 2016

Tomorrow the American Tax Policy Institute is sponsoring a conference at the offices of Skadden Arps in Washington DC that will look at ways to improve the tax system using advances in technology. The conference will be streamed here (registration required).

The conference features panels on four themes:

  • how the tax system can use behavioral economics to help tax policy;
  • how social science can improve tax administration and promote compliance;
  • how artificial intelligence and big data can improve compliance; and
  • how the tax system is addressing issues of privacy, identity theft, and data security.

I will be hosting the panel on privacy, where I will be joined by Ken Corbin, Director of IRS’ Return Integrity and Compliance Services, Kathy Pickering and Brice Daise of H&R Block and Professor Michael Hatfield at University of Washington School of Law. IRS and the private sector have teamed up on many issues relating to identity theft and security, and Bruce, Kathy and Ken will explore the challenges and opportunities that spin off that public private partnership. Michael has written thoughtful papers on privacy and tax policy.

The other panels feature interesting researchers from government and the academy, including former guest PT posters Susan Morse and Kathleen DeLaney Thomas, and my former law school professor Joe Bankman, who has co-authored an important article on the use of smart tax returns and software as a way to nudge compliance.

In the waning days of the current administration, President Obama has pointed to technology and its impact on society with increasing frequency. In an interview in Wired last month, he lamented that government in general has not embraced technology in making experiences for people more user friendly, noting that filing taxes should be “at least as easy as ordering a pizza or an airline ticket.” This follows an executive order from 2015 addressing the use of behavioral economics in government, where the President essentially ordered government to embrace its insights into designing and operating federal programs.

We have discussed how the tax system is struggling with technology as it addresses IRS Future State and modifies its procedures in Appeals. I have also been deeply interested in how tax agencies around the world have employed social knowledge and research in areas like behavioral economics to improve tax compliance (see e.g., What Peeing in the Pool Can Teach Us About Tax Compliance and a post discussing research out of the UK called Can IRS Change Taxpayers from Procrastinators to Payors By Drafting Letters that Make Taxpayers Feel Bad?

There is no doubt that in the next administration IRS will be wrestling with how to manage technology and how to better leverage insights from research in many areas to more efficiently administer our complex tax system. Tomorrow’s ATPI conference will I think be an important forum for considering many of these issues.

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