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A Systemic Suggestion – Change the Music

Posted on Apr. 18, 2014

One charge to the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) from Congress requires the NTA to look for problems that require systemic changes.  Going through, you can get to the place in the NTA’s portion of the website where you can notify the IRS of systemic issues you have encountered, explain the issue and suggest changes that need to occur.  The system goes under the acronym SAMS – Systemic Advocacy Management System.  Once you make your suggestion, the friendly people who monitor the system will get back to you acknowledging receipt of your suggestion.  If they decide to pursue your suggestion, they will generally make further contact.

Any of you who actually call the IRS phone lines seeking assistance for clients, friends, family or your own tax issues, have the opportunity to experience the music played while you listen for the next available caller.  By the end of the semester, my students have heard this music a lot.  Sometimes, we do a music review at the end of the semester.  In other years we have talked about the psychological issues raised by the music the IRS chooses to play.  No matter how we choose to discuss it, the issue always comes back to how bad the music is that the IRS makes its callers listen to while they wait.  The long wait times now common when trying to reach the IRS exacerbate the problem with the music. 

On April 15, one team of students actually got through to the IRS within two minutes.  They were so excited; they rushed to tell me of their success.  Wait times are now so long and the music so bad I try to use this feature to discourage students from signing up for my clinic in order to keep the wait list low.  After further discussion of the problem, we decided to make a systemic request to the IRS that it improve its music since it does not seem to be able to improve the wait times.

We think the IRS has choices in the way it might solve the music problem.  If you read Steve’s SumOpp post earlier this week you noticed that once again a musician has a significant tax debt.  This week Courtney Love got singled out for having a large dollar notice of federal tax lien filed against her.  The Isley Brothers and Willie Nelson top the list of other singers who have had troubles in this regard.  The IRS could approach singers with wide fan bases who have some tax issues to work out a compromise by which the tax liability might be reduced or eliminated in return for the use of their music on the phone lines of the IRS.

If the IRS does not want to use singers who have run up tax liabilities as featured artists on its phone lines, it could have singers make charitable donations of their songs to the IRS for use on its phone lines.  This more pro-active approach would avoid the issue of rewarding past bad tax behavior and perhaps get a wider genre of music for its listening audience. 

If the IRS does not want to give tax benefits in order to improve its music selection, perhaps it could have artists seeking to reach a wider audience simply authorize use of their music to the IRS for its phone lines.  It could feature new artist every month or some similar time period giving exposure to artist while giving professionals who must call the lines again and again a break in the music to which they must listen. 

Many possibilities exist for the improvement of the IRS system of providing music while you wait.  Others may have better suggestions than these.  Upload your suggestions to the IRS SAMS system so that the IRS can have the benefit of your ideas.  If Congress will not give the IRS more money to hire people to answer calls or the IRS will not reallocate resources to its phone system and tax professionals must listen to hours of music, at least the IRS could devote a small amount of resources to improving the music people must listen to while waiting.  If the music improves, the disposition of the callers might improve at the time when the IRS employee finally has a chance to get to their call.  Who knows what the overall implications for tax administration could be as a result of these changes.

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