The National Taxpayer Advocate is a little-publicized position within the Internal Revenue Service. Appointed in 2001, Nina Olson's job is to be the voice of tax-paying citizens.
A recent report from Olson's office says the IRS should shift from tax enforcement, like IRS audits, to taxpayer service. The move would help the federal agency build citizen trust and confidence in its fairness.
About half of the organization's budget of $11.2 billion is used to conduct IRS audits and other enforcement measures, Olson said in her recent report to Congress. By way of comparison, she noted that less than 6 percent is spent on outreach and education.
The result is that taxpayers are underserved, Olson says. When a taxpayer calls the IRS, they have to wait an average of 30 minutes before they can even speak with someone.
If the agency hopes to instill confidence and trust, it "must change its culture from one that is enforcement-oriented to one that is service-oriented."
Olson pointed out that she does not ask that the IRS "ignore those who are actively evading tax," but rather that the tax collection system be designed "around the taxpayers who are trying to comply."
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency believes it offers an approach balanced between enforcement and service. He said he rejects "inaccurate stereotypes that the IRS is just focused on tax enforcement."
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