We have all grown accustomed to staying home in 2020. Recent IRS guidance to Revenue Officers, SBSE-05-1020-0084, tells them essentially to stay the course and avoid going into the field unless absolutely necessary. There is nothing surprising or alarming about the advice, but it does continue the new norm which has consequences, some good and some bad, for those dealing with a Revenue Officer.
Revenue Officers (ROs) generally spend their time going into the “field.” Here, the field means getting out of their office and into the community where delinquent taxpayers live or operate businesses. The hallmark of a revenue officer is showing up and providing a physical presence to let the taxpayer know that the IRS has not forgotten about them and the unpaid taxes.
Of course, no one wants to send ROs out into the field if the field is unsafe. Essentially, ROs were told to sit tight when the pandemic hit. The new guidance extends this situation until January 31, 20201. I expect the IRS will extend it further at that point unless things get better quicker than it now appears.
Case work done from home
What does this mean for taxpayers? It means that ROs work from home. They have the capability to work remotely, but remote work will generally mean sitting in their home office making calls and dealing with correspondence. My clinic does not often have cases that involve ROs but we have one now and have found that the RO does not even go into his office. We know that because some of the case file is in his office, and he has not retrieved it. Here is the specific guidance to ROs regarding making an in person visit:
Face-to-face public contact/field activities will only occur in exceptional cases, as described below. They will not be routine or regularly occurring activities and will be voluntary on the part of the employee. Revenue Officers (ROs) may conduct face-to-face contacts and other field activities with the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s authorized representative or other members of the public on a case-by-case basis and only when authorized. Face-to-face contacts and field activities require Territory Manager approval and are subject to the guidelines in the Deputy Commissioner memo dated July 6, 2020.
Face-to-face field contact should only be authorized where:
(1) there are no effective alternatives to face-to-face contact, and the failure to act poses a risk of permanent loss to the government, such as the expiration of a statute, assets being placed permanently beyond government reach, or continued pyramiding of employment tax liabilities; or
(2) the taxpayer or representative has requested face-to-face contact and the RO and manager agree that face-to-face contact would advance the progress of the case.
Note: Document all decisions to make face-to-face contact, public/field activities and discussions with management in the ICS history.
In all instances of public contact, employees are expected to wear masks or other face coverings, practice social distancing, and adhere to CDC guidelines (handwashing, etc.) to guard against possible exposure to or spread of COVID-19. Where possible, consider conducting the meeting with the taxpayer in an IRS facility (such as Taxpayer Assistance Centers) equipped with plexiglass barriers.
Offers in Compromise
This applies to the offer in compromise cases to which they are sometimes assigned to ROs to do assessments of property and other tasks which require field visits. While the guidance applies field calls prior to acceptance of an OIC, it does not say if this means OICs will sit until the RO can make the visit or if OICs will move forward without the personal visit.
On October 23rd I participated in an ABA program on a panel with Tom Rath who is the Assistant Division Counsel, SBSE for General Litigation (Collection). Tom indicated on the panel that the IRS will treat the date of receipt of an OIC as the date that triggers the running of the 24 month period for offer acceptance where the IRS fails to act. For some taxpayers who mailed their offers in April 2020, six or more of the 24 months will pass before the IRS even opens the mail to know it has an offer. Even with the loss of this six-month period, the IRS will ordinarily make an offer determination well before the 24-month period. Still, the delay in getting to an offer because of the pandemic will drive certain cases closer to the deemed acceptance date and makes that period one that deserves more attention coming out of the pandemic.
Filing Notice of Federal Tax Lien and other collection notices
The notice also states that on October 1, 2020 ROs should resume normal procedures for deciding whether to file the notice of federal tax lien (NFTL). Taxpayers with outstanding liabilities have enjoyed a reprieve from the filing of NFTLs for the past several months but should expect filings to start again soon.
The IRS has held off of other collection notices pending the clearance of the mail backlog so that it could determine if a taxpayer had made payment. As it comes to the end of the backlog of mail, expect the IRS to begin sending out collection notices again and to resume collection from the Automated Call Sites.