Today we welcome Sheri Dillon as our guest blogger to provide her reflection on the tenure of Nina Olson as National Taxpayer Advocate. Sheri is a partner with the Washington, D.C. office of Morgan Lewis where she specializes in tax controversy and has some significant clients. Sheri is also a person committed to pro bono work. She, and her partner Jennifer Breen, started a tax clinic to assist low income taxpayers in the DC area. She is the incoming vice chair of the ABA Tax Section in charge of pro bono matters for the Section. Keith
When I think of Nina, and the profound impact she has had on justice and fair tax administration for all, I come back to the same question. How did she do it? In reviewing the posts this past month on Procedurally Taxing, from my perspective, the answer can be summed up in one word: grit. Grit is passion, perseverance, courage, conscientiousness, and resilience. Simply stated, grit is refusing to take no for an answer.
I can’t think of anyone who embodies grit more than Nina. I am hoping to learn from Nina’s example, borrow some of her grit and make it my own. Like many private practitioners, it’s hard to find the time to take on the pro bono matters that I would like to. And when I am able to take them on, it’s frustrating to often find that I don’t have the tax knowledge or skills base to help them. Thanks to Nina, there exists a community of low-income taxpayer clinicians, as well as the Taxpayer Advocate Service, standing by ready and willing to help.
Also thanks to Nina, we can see that real change can be brought to a bureaucracy and tax administration agency as large and unwieldy as the Internal Revenue Service. And, as Nina demonstrated, some of that change can come from the outside – from tax practitioners, taxpayers, lawmakers, and the courts. I am hoping to work this next year to see what change I can help effect that will further the objective of equal access to justice and representation in matters before the Service.
Nina’s life work, coupled with her grit, created a system that provides representation for many of our low-income taxpayers – defined by Congress as those whose incomes do not exceed 250% of the poverty guidelines. While this has tremendously helped our most vulnerable taxpayers, it still leaves many taxpayers without representation and forced to pay more tax than they should under the tax law. Which raises the question – how can we ensure that taxpayers whose income exceeds 250% of the poverty guidelines but nonetheless can’t afford representation, are nonetheless represented? I don’t have the answer to this question, but am hoping to gather my grit, and work – along with the tax bar – to find the answer.