Ten years ago, the IRS Appeals staff included 2,100 employees; recently it reached a low of 1,100. “We have made a big push to restack, using any kind of approval we could get here internally, and we currently are sitting at about 1,500 employees,” Keyso said, adding that the office currently has about 1,500 employees, with a goal in 2023 to get up to 1,725. Keyso noted that the Appeals group has different requirements than other areas of the IRS. “If you don’t have the number of people you’d like to have in other areas, you just do fewer collection actions or conduct fewer audits,” Keyso said. “In Appeals, we have unique challenges. We’ve must work every case that comes in the door. We can’t say, ‘We don’t have enough people, so we are not going to work your case.’ So for us, hiring is particularly an acute issue and recruiting and hiring will be one of our focus areas for this year.”
Like the rest of the agency, the Office of Appeals is working through its own technology issues and is in need of upgrades. In particular, Keyso highlighted the need to get away from paper. “I think we learned during the pandemic a few things about technology and how paper can really be our Achilles heel when you have to move paper case files,” he said. “That was a particular issue during the pandemic when you didn’t have all of your people in the office to ship case files around.”
Moving to a paperless environment is a “continuing challenge,” Keyso said, not only for communicating between Appeals employees, but between staff and taxpayers. “Should we really be mailing things back and forth through the U.S. Postal Service? Or is there a better way to communicate with taxpayers that’s faster and maybe preferable to taxpayers?”
As part of the technology challenges, the Independent Office of Appeals also is looking to continue to use video conferencing, something that gained traction during the pandemic. “With the service wide return to the office, we are again offering in person conferences, which is something Appeals is very excited about,” Amy Giuliano, senior advisor to the Chief and Deputy Chief in the Office of Appeal, said. “But we want video conferences to remain a permanent option to alongside in person. We requested comments in August for people to submit input on experiences they had with video conferences with appeals that should inform our longer term guidelines. And we’ve received a lot of positive feedback that video conferences, when they’re managed effectively, are a great way for a taxpayer to present their case to appeals.”
She applauded the fact that video conferences have the benefits of a face-to-face conference in that one can see the IRS agent they are dealing with, but they avoid the logistical issues with traveling to an IRS office to conduct the meeting. It makes things more accessible, especially if the taxpayer has medical or other mobility issues. “That’s why it’s so important that it remain an option going forward alongside in person and alongside telephone,” she said.
Improving Overall Access
Keyso also noted that a key area of focus going forward is improving the overall access since it is now codified into law through the Taxpayer First Act of 2019. “Our position in the Appeals Office is that we want the broadest access to appeals possible for us to hear controversies or disputes between IRS and taxpayer,” Keyso said. “So we will continue to push for broad access to taxpayers to appeals.”
The Appeals office plans to continue convening practitioner panels where they invite practitioners to talk about issues they are facing as they deal with the appeals process. He noted that it was through these panels that the office started including more manager contact information to letters to taxpayers and their representatives so they can more easily escalate a situation if needed.