Sen. Grassley on the Taxpayer First Act to Modernize the IRS

Mr. President,

I’m pleased that my colleague, Finance Committee Ranking Member, Senator Wyden, will be joining me in introducing the Taxpayer First Act of 2019 later today.

This legislation seeks to modernize the IRS, improve taxpayer services and strengthen taxpayer protections.

The package of IRS reforms we introduce today is the culmination of years of work by both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

It’s truly a bipartisan package that adopts provisions authored by committee members on both sides of the aisle from both the Senate and House.

Former Chairman Hatch deserves a lot of credit for working to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement at the end of last Congress that is reflected in the legislation we will be introducing this afternoon.

I know he put a lot of work into trying to get this legislation across the finish line last year.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be due to both political realties and time constraints.

However, his work helped us get to where we are today.

And our hope is that it will allow us to move quickly this year and finally get these commonsense reforms of the IRS enacted into law.

Some of the IRS reforms included in this legislation include establishing a truly independent office of appeals within the IRS.

This will help ensure the playing field is not tilted against taxpayers in a dispute with the IRS.

To help bring the IRS into the 21st century, the legislation also would require the IRS to submit to Congress a plan to redesign the structure of the agency to improve efficiency, enhance cyber security and better meet taxpayer needs.

It also includes a number of provisions to protect taxpayers better from tax ID theft and improve taxpayer interaction with the IRS should they become a victim of this crime.

This includes creating a single point of contact in the IRS to help them navigate the bureaucracy and resolve their issues as quickly as possible.

To provide taxpayers with better protection against becoming a victim in the first place, the legislation would expand to all taxpayers an IRS program that currently only allows victims of tax ID theft to obtain a personalized PIN that better secures their identity.

The legislation also puts in place new safeguards to protect taxpayers against recent IRS enforcement abuses of so-called “structuring laws.”

On several occasions, the IRS used these laws to seize bank accounts of small business owners when no underlying criminal activity was present.

This included seizing $33,000 from a small business owner who operated a small restaurant in Arnolds Park, Iowa, for nearly 40 years.

Provisions in our bill will help ensure these types of abuses never occur again.

I would also like to note the improvements to the IRS whistleblower program that are contained in the bill.

In 2006, I authored legislation establishing a mandatory IRS whistleblower program.

Since it was established, the IRS whistleblower program has turned into one of the most effective programs addressing tax evasion – leading to the recovery of more than $5 billion in taxes that otherwise would’ve been lost to fraud.

Unfortunately, too often IRS whistleblowers continue to be treated like a skunk at a picnic.

They often wait for years in the dark with no indication of whether the information they provide will lead to a successful recovery or whether their reward is even being processed.

Moreover, they are often putting their careers on the line exposing corporate tax shelters with no protections should their employer decide to retaliate.

Provisions in our bill will help to address these issues by authorizing the IRS to communicate with whistleblowers in certain instances while protecting taxpayer privacy.

The bill would extend anti-retaliation provisions to IRS whistleblowers that are presently afforded to whistleblowers under other whistleblower laws, such as the False Claims Act and Sarbanes-Oxley.

Finally, the bill includes modifications to the private debt collection program.

I’ve long been a proponent of this program as a way to tackle the tax gap and promote tax fairness.

It works by assigning certain tax debts that the IRS otherwise would not attempt to collect to outside contractors to pursue.

Recent quarterly revenue reports demonstrate the program has the potential to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue on an annual basis.

I understand some of my colleagues, particularly on the House Ways and Means Committee, have been concerned that the program has been too heavily focused on lower-income taxpayers.

We listened to these concerns and worked to develop a sensible compromise while strengthening the long-term viability of the program.

These are just few of the provisions in this bill.

There are many others that will go a long way toward making the IRS work better for taxpayers.

I also know some of my colleagues have additional ideas that we were unable to include in this package.

I want them to know that I see this legislation as a first step toward reforming the IRS and strengthening taxpayer protections.

I agree that there is more we can do.

I’m committed to evaluating additional proposals with input from all of our colleagues on reforms that could be included in a package of additional IRS reforms later this Congress.

But first things first. Companion legislation is being introduced in the House, which I hope that the Senate will receive in the near future.

I urge all of my colleagues to join me and Ranking Member Wyden in supporting quick action on the Taxpayer First Act of 2019.

I yield the floor.