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NTA Releases Subway Map Depicting Complexity of Tax System

Posted on July 11, 2019

We have been running a series of reflections on the career of Nina Olson. I shared some of my thoughts on Nina’s impact, both to me personally and professionally, when she announced her retirement and just prior to my starting work at TAS as a Professor in Residence this past spring. 

The TAS release this past week of a subway map that illustrates a taxpayer’s journey through the tax system highlights some of Nina’s strengths as an advocate and public servant. She has seized upon an incredibly good idea (visualizing complexity to understand the burdens that taxpayers experience and assist taxpayers in exercising their rights) and through energy, passion and a deep understanding of the tax system was able to take a good idea and produce a tangible result. This specific project began bearing fruit in the 2018 Annual Report to Congress, which included a series of roadmaps that displayed a taxpayer’s journey through the tax system.

This past spring I saw firsthand as Nina brought together dozens of TAS employees to collaborate on expanding the roadmap. Working with the talented team at TAS Communications, Stakeholder Liaison & Online Services (headed by Maryclaire Ramsey) TAS was able to complete a more detailed subway style map that further visualizes a taxpayer’s journey through the tax system. The idea is to expand this even further, and eventually develop an interactive map that will help taxpayers (and practitioners) who receive correspondence fully understand what a notice means, all with the goal of helping taxpayers exercise their rights in light of their specific place in the system.

I am a huge fan of this project. There is some interesting and important research being done that incorporates design principles into the access to justice movement, including how images facilitate unrepresented individuals’ exercise of their rights. This fits directly into the work that TAS and broader IRS is doing with respect to designing notices. This project also has the effect of helping policymakers understand just how complex the tax system is. As Nina wraps up her tenure at TAS, this project will have an impact long after she has moved on to her next chapter.  The ability to transform (good) ideas into practical specific policies, proposals and projects has been a key part of the NTA’s work this past 18 years (and even before that with her work at CTLP and in helping Congress see the need to provide funding for tax clinics). That is a powerful legacy.

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