Simplify tax code

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2003

While it’s been on the table before, we’ve yet to hear any of the crop of presidential aspirants call for simplifying the federal tax code.

It’s a measure that’s needed. And we’re not merely talking about shaving a few pounds off the massive code, but trimming it down to a lean, mean, fighting weight.

The case for simplification is illustrated by a recent investigation conducted by the Treasury Department in which auditors, posing as taxpayers, contacted Internal Revenue Service help centers with questions about tax law. The IRS helpers gave correct answers just 57 percent of the time.


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The investigators concluded that approximately 500,000 taxpayers who visited the centers during the course of the study, from July to December 2002, could have received incorrect responses to their tax law questions.

IRS employees provided complete and correct answers to 45 percent of the questions asked by auditors, and correct but incomplete answers in 12 percent of the cases.

IRS employees told the auditors to do their own research in IRS publications to find the answers in response to 12 percent of the questions, despite an IRS policy banning the practice.

Incorrect answers were given to 28 percent of the questions. The questions most commonly answered incorrectly dealt with the earned income tax credit, education credit and dependents.

The IRS has taken steps to teach employees more about tax law, implementing continuous education and training programs. The IRS set a goal to give accurate responses to 80 percent of the questions this year and 85 percent next year.

That’s all well and good but the simple fact is that the federal tax code is far too complex. It needs to be thrown out and rewritten from top to bottom and at least made simple enough for the experts to understand.