PREPARED REMARKS OF JOHN A. KOSKINEN COMMISSIONER INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE BEFORE THE TAXPAYERS AGAINST FRAUD EDUCATION FUND WASHINGTON, D.

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1 PREPARED REMARKS OF JOHN A. KOSKINEN COMMISSIONER INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE BEFORE THE TAXPAYERS AGAINST FRAUD EDUCATION FUND WASHINGTON, D.C. SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 Good afternoon. I m the one who s tasked with keeping everyone awake after their lunch, and I promise I ll do my best. Before I begin, I d like to acknowledge Neil Getnick, for his fine leadership of this organization, and I also want to thank Peggy Richardson for inviting me to be here today. I m especially delighted to address this group because I m a big believer in the IRS Whistleblower Program. I know you ve already had a good discussion about the program during your previous session, so what I d like to do now is give you my perspective, and a sense of why I feel a program like this is important to tax administration. To do that, I ll start by talking a little about how important the flow of information is to an agency like the IRS, in order for us to identify and solve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. I ve been IRS Commissioner now for nearly nine months, and I ve learned a lot about the agency in that time. I already knew coming in that the IRS is critical to the functioning of our government and one that touches virtually every American. What I did not realize, but found out rather quickly, was that the IRS has an extremely experienced and dedicated workforce. One of my strong beliefs has always been that the people who know the most about any organization are its front line employees, and the IRS is no exception. With that in mind, when I became Commissioner I decided to visit IRS offices around the country, starting with the 25 largest. I ve now been to around three dozen offices and talked with more than 12,000 people at all levels of the organization, from executives to managers to revenue agents. You would think that by the time I got to the 10 th city or certainly the 15 th, I would have heard it all. Yet every place I go, there are new insights and different perspectives that are helpful in understanding the opportunities for the agency and where to put our resources going forward. As I ve traveled around to these offices, I ve told our employees that one of my goals is to foster an environment where information flows easily from the bottom up in the agency, as well as from the top down. This is critical, not only for us to get the benefit of observations and suggestions from employees, but also to learn as quickly as possible about problems or challenges. 1

2 In a perfect world, we would never have a problem or a mistake. But we have about 90,000 employees administering the world s most complicated tax code and dealing with millions of taxpayers, so that s not realistic. What is realistic is to try to find problems quickly, fix them promptly, make sure they stay fixed, and be transparent about the entire process. As I ve told our employees many times, if there s a problem anywhere in the organization, it s my problem, and we ll fix it together. If someone has made an honest mistake within the scope of their responsibilities, it s my mistake and we ll work together to remedy it. And, if there s a problem I don t know about, that s my fault, because it would mean we haven t built a culture that encourages information to flow up from the front lines through the organization. I also believe we have to listen not just to employees, but also to others who are most likely to know about challenges the agency faces. I ve often said that a government manager's best friends can be external advisors such as the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. They don't create the problems they highlight; they just help you know about them before they get bigger. My theory about that, in fact, is that bad news is good news, since the only problems we can t solve are the ones we don t know about. And as a corollary, our employees and external advisors need to know that we don t shoot messengers, we thank them. I believe the IRS Whistleblower Program should be viewed in exactly the same way, as an important source of information and perspective that the IRS can use to improve tax administration. Because of the information they provide, whistleblowers are an important help to the IRS in detecting tax compliance issues, and in preventing tax fraud. The attorneys who represent whistleblowers, providing them with support and counsel, play an important role as well. The deterrence value of the whistleblower program is key here. Let s say you have a corporation with complex tax compliance obligations, and that corporation is contemplating a tax avoidance scheme. With a strong, active whistleblower program out there, the individuals running that corporation will know there are people internally and externally who are aware of the company s decisions and have a financial incentive to report the scheme to the IRS. That knowledge will certainly make those corporate bigwigs think twice, if they re smart, and weigh heavily against trying an end run around the tax law. By helping the IRS improve tax compliance, the whistleblower program also helps to ensure the integrity and fairness of our tax system. That system is built on the notion of voluntary compliance. Average taxpayers who play by the rules must be confident that corporations and wealthy individuals cannot avoid paying their fair share of tax through the creation and use of complicated financial structures that exploit the tax law. Having said that, I realize that being a whistleblower isn t something that is always supported in our society. There s an ethos in our culture about snitches and telling tales out of school. But my view is that if people are cheating on their taxes, it s a public service to let us know. I know you 2

3 and others share that view, as is evidenced by the changes in the law in 2006 that created the IRS Whistleblower Office and the program we have today. I m very proud of the work being done by the IRS Whistleblower Office under the able leadership of Steve Whitlock. Over the last three fiscal years, the IRS has paid out more than $186 million in awards, on collection of more than $1 billion based on whistleblower information. These collections, and the awards that followed from them, came about through the dedicated efforts of our field agents and managers. They demonstrate the IRS commitment to taking appropriate action on whistleblower submissions and compensating whistleblowers under the law. I realize that there are concerns about the pace of award payouts under the law as amended in While the number of awards paid to date is relatively small, I believe that the pace of payments does not reflect the strong commitment that we have to the whistleblower program. I would also point out that it can take five to seven years on major cases before payouts can be made, and that time could be even longer with appeals. I do understand the frustration though, and I expect the pace of awards to pick up modestly in the coming year. If you want a sign of how committed the IRS is to the whistleblower program, look no further than our recent decision to increase staffing for the program by 31 employees, which is more than 70 percent. This increase is especially significant in light of our extremely tough budget environment, which I ll talk more about in a moment. This additional staff will help us continue implementing the 2006 law and working to increase the pace of award payouts. Something else that I m sure will help pick up the pace of awards is the delegation order we issued in August. Under that order, smaller awards can be approved by a senior manager in the whistleblower office, so everything doesn t have to flow through the director s office. The IRS commitment to the whistleblower program is also reflected in the significant progress that we ve made to date in implementing the 2006 law. We recently issued regulations designed to define relevant terms under that law and allow disclosure of information, to the extent that the law permits and in a manner that is administratively feasible. I also want to say a word about taxpayer rights. While it is important to act on whistleblower information and issue awards as quickly as we can, we must always be mindful of the need to protect taxpayer rights in this process. We recently issued a memo to the field about the whistleblower program, in which we emphasized the care that needs to be taken in handling information provided by whistleblowers, for the protection of both the taxpayer and the whistleblower. Looking to the future, the IRS needs to do everything possible to strengthen the whistleblower program and build on the progress already made in implementing the law. I am committed to expanding the program s reach and improving communications with existing and potential whistleblowers. There is only so much the IRS can do administratively in terms of program improvements. To the extent that statutory changes are needed, I intend to work with Congress to ensure that such changes are enacted. For example, the President s Fiscal year 2015 budget contains proposals to 3

4 better protect whistleblowers from retaliation, and safeguard taxpayer information from improper disclosure. I will continue to urge Congress to act on these proposals, because they would represent helpful improvements to the program. While we are working diligently to strengthen and improve the whistleblower program, we face a major challenge to progress in this area, and in fact all other areas of IRS operations, and that is our budget situation. The ongoing decline in IRS resources puts significant strains on our ability to provide adequate services to taxpayers and maintain a robust compliance program. The IRS budget for Fiscal Year 2014 was set at just under $11.3 billion, which is more than $850 million below That is approximately a 7 percent reduction in our budget, while the number of taxpayers grew by about 4 percent, or seven million taxpayers, over the same time period. The agency also now has 10,000 fewer full-time employees today than it did in 2010, even as our responsibilities have continued to expand. Our ability to use the information received under the whistleblower program to detect noncompliance and deter fraud needs to be seen in the context of these limitations on our resources. They require us to make extremely difficult choices on both services and enforcement. In Fiscal Year 2013, as a result of budget constraints, the IRS delivered key enforcement programs well below historical levels. Total individual audits fell 5 percent from 1.48 million in 2012 to 1.40 million in 2013, while audits of high-income individuals declined from 179,000 to 172,000. Likewise, business return audits dropped13 percent in 2013, from 70,000 to 61,000. We are concerned that this decline in core enforcement activities is expected to continue in 2014, given the ongoing challenging budget environment. The ongoing funding shortfall has major implications for taxpayers and the tax system. As a result of fewer staff and reduced enforcement activities, the IRS estimates it will not be able to collect billions of dollars in enforcement revenues in We estimate that we would have returned to the Federal government over $2 billion more in collections, had we received the remaining $500 million cut from our budget by the sequester. Essentially, the government is losing billions in revenue collection to achieve budget savings of a few hundred million dollars, since the IRS estimates that, for every $1 invested in the IRS budget, it produces $4 in revenue. Given our tight budget picture, the information provided by whistleblowers is a godsend. Whistleblowers allow the IRS to do more with very limited compliance resources, by helping us to do a better job of targeting areas of noncompliance. But this is a two-edged sword. It s also true that the IRS will be able to do fewer audits based on whistleblower information as a result of the continuing decline in our funding. So it is imperative that we continue to push for adequate resources for our compliance programs, and indeed for the agency as a whole. The solution to the funding problem faced by the IRS begins with the Administration s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget request, which totals about $12.6 billion, about $1.35 billion above the 2014 enacted level. Within that total, the administration proposes additional funding to improve audit coverage of corporations, partnerships and high-wealth individuals. At this point in the budget process, we are very concerned about the level of funding that may be enacted for In July, the House passed legislation that would reduce our budget more than $1 billion below this year. If that level were to be enacted, we would face a very serious shortfall 4

5 in personnel, in taxpayer services, in enforcement and in information technology. But we realize there are more steps in the budget process, and in fact, our Senate Appropriations subcommittee earlier this year approved a small increase for the IRS in So we will be watching developments closely, in the hopes that Congress will ultimately provide adequate resources for the agency for the next fiscal year, In making the case for additional funding for the IRS, I want to emphasize that we take very seriously the need to be careful stewards of the resources we receive. Our cost-cutting measures have saved nearly $1 billion since One of my responsibilities is to ensure that we are minimizing risks and quickly solving management and operational problems that may arise, so that taxpayers can be confident that when we request additional funding, the money will be used wisely. I hope that one of the legacies of my term as IRS Commissioner will be that we put the agency s funding on a more solid and sustainable footing. Before I stop, let me just say again how important it will be for the IRS to maintain a strong and active whistleblower program. We will continue to do everything we can to make it stronger, to the extent that our resources will allow. It is my hope that the program will continue to grow and evolve as a critical element in the IRS program of tax compliance. Thank you for letting me spend this time with you today. I would be happy to take any questions you may have. 5

IRS Commissioner John A. Koskinen Prepared Remarks for the 2014 Fall Meeting of the Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement (CERCA) October 30, 2014 John, thank you for that introduction.

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