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National Tax Advocate Appeals to IRS Commish on Scanning Paper Returns

National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins has taken an “unusual step” to appeal an Internal Revenue Service Deputy Commissioners’ decision directly to Commissioner Charles Rettig for reconsideration regarding the use of scanning technology for paper tax returns.

In March, Collins issued a Taxpayer Advocate Directive calling on the agency to work with tax software companies to implement a 2-D barcode on all returns prepared using the software. The barcodes would be printed on the paper returns and, when scanned, would transfer all the information from a paper-filed return without the need for manual entry, which is currently required for all paper returns.

For handwritten returns or returns where the barcode was not readable, the directive called for the agency to use optical scanning technology to automate the processing of those returns.

“If the IRS had implemented scanning technology, it is unlikely the current processing backlog would exist,” Collins said in a March 29, 2022, letter outlining the directive.

Collins noted in an August 4 blog post that the IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement Douglas O’Donnell and Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support Jeffrey Tribiano would not be following the directive.

In a July 18, 2022, memorandum for Collins, the deputy commissioners said the agency was exploring various barcoding technologies, but it would not follow the directive related to the scanning of handwritten forms or forms where the barcode could not be read.

Collins stated in the blog that “due to the magnitude of this issue and the unprecedented backlog of paper returns, I took the unusual step of appealing the Deputy Commissioners’ decision to the Commissioner for reconsideration.”

In an August 2, 2022, memorandum to Commissioner Rettig, Collins noted that deputy commissioners’ response “declined to make a commitment to implement scanning technology to machine read v-coded returns, and it expressly rejected implementing scanning technology to machine read handwritten returns.” She again called for the implementation of the use of some form of barcoding technology by the start of the 2023 filing season and the use of technology to machine read handwritten returns by the start of the 2023 filing season or, if that is not feasible, by the start of the 2024 filing season.

To frame the need, Collins noted in her blog post that the IRS “will have to process an average of about 525,000 paper-filed Forms 1040 per week during the second half of 2022 to eliminate the backlog” that came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “As of July 15, however, it had processed a weekly average of paper-filed Forms 1040 over the prior four weeks of just 295,000.”

She added: “While we all hope the IRS can work through the backlog this year, I often say that hope is not a business plan.”

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