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Will all props to my dear colleague Selena, I wish she'd talked to me before she wrote that. Some investigative reporting about the Advocate's office and collection "due process" would have added to the story. Full disclosure time. For those who don't already know, I spent 25 years in and around the IRS collection function. Yes, folks, I confess to being a retired knuckle-dragging stormtrooper.

The Advocate's office has been around in various forms since the '80's, when the position had its debut as the Taxpayer Ombudsman, an IRS initiative. Its original stated mission was twofold: assist taxpayers stuck somewhere in the process and look for systemic improvements that would make life easier for both taxpayers and IRS. It has failed miserably at both. I suspect it was a PR move from the beginning.

Enter Congress. In one of the three Taxpayer Bills of Rights, Congress stepped in and fixed things [irony alert]. BTW, if we need only one Bill of Rights, why have we needed three Taxpayer bills of rights? Oh, I forgot. We have elections more often than we found the country. I digress.

How did Congress fix things? They changed the name and moved it! TA-DA!!! BTW, this is a favorite of all politicians. Remember when they got rid of the ICC? Well, actually they got rid of the Commissioners and buried the functions elsewhere in the government, but we're not supposed to notice that. Remember this trick, though, when you hear people yammer about "eliminating the IRS" as if the taxes are going to process, collect, and account for themselves. You can call it the "Bureau of Barking at the Moon," but someone somewhere is going to have to do the work. I digress again.

Anyway, the Ombudsman's office got staffed with people too incompetent to thrive in their home functions. Given what I've seen from various recounts of Advocate encounters, the tradition continues. Not that I'm the kind of person who says, "I told you so," but I remember vigorously arguing that the Ombudsman needed the brightest, most knowledgeable, most fearless people from each function. It really could have accomplished something, but it appears it never will. The Advocate's office touts its reports to Congress, most of which were cover stories in "Duh!" magazine years ago, and the Taxpayer Assistance Order (on Form 911--too precious for comment) process is a very bad joke.

As for collection due process, it basically means that when the wolf scratches at the door you can paper him for about 18 months before he's allowed to knock. Then you go into bankruptcy. For income taxes it's not a huge deal. But remember our recent thread from the Fool whose employer is playing fast and loose with the payroll? Thanks to due process that employer can hold off the IRS goons and enrich his attorney until he digs himself a hole he can't possibly get out of.

This is progress?

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