IRS advisory group will promote electronic filing

The IRS has brought together tax preparers, software company executives and educators
to help it sell electronic filing to the public.

Congress required the IRS to set up the 17-member Electronic Tax Administration
Advisory Committee under the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act it passed last year. The
committee will meet quarterly. Two meetings will be open to the public; two will be closed
for working sessions, IRS officials said.

The committee will try to come up with ways to make electronic filing more attractive
to taxpayers and preparers. It’s not a question of technology, but business, said
Charles A. Lacijan, a senior technical adviser of the Implementation Group Inc. of
Washington and a member of the advisory group.

Taxpayers who are owed refunds have a strong incentive for filing electronically
because they get their money in two weeks instead of six, Lacijan said. The committee will
look at ways to make electronic filing attractive to the 30 percent of taxpayers who owe
an average of $2,400, he said.

The National Commission on Restructuring the IRS, which offered suggestions on ways to
revamp agency operations, suggested giving electronic filers a 30-day extension. Congress,
however, didn’t like the idea enough to include it in the reform bill, Lacijan said.

The committee will also suggest ways for the IRS to handle taxpayer signatures
electronically. The IRS to date has not accepted an electronic tax return without the
taxpayer mailing in a paper form with a signature.

Eventually, the IRS plans to have security tools to accept digital and other electronic
forms of signature. Until then, Congress wants the IRS to come up with alternative
methods. One suggestion is to let tax preparers keep taxpayer signatures on file in their
offices rather than send them to the IRS, Lacijan said.

The committee will also have to consider how attractive to make IRS electronic filing.
Tax preparation software manufacturers, such as Intuit Inc. of San Diego, do not want the
IRS to make its electronic forms so widespread that IRS competes with commercial
electronic tax products.

The reform bill stipulated that the IRS “should cooperate with and encourage the
private sector by encouraging competition to increase electronic filing of such

The IRS is under the gun to get more people to file electronically. The reform act
requires 80 percent of federal tax returns be filed electronically by 2007.

Electronic filing could also reduce the IRS’ error rate. Paper returns have about
a 20 percent error rate, and half of the errors occur as IRS workers key in data,
according to the findings of the National Commission on Restructuring the IRS.

Electronic returns have an error rate of less than 1 percent, the commission reported,
because the returns are “prepared by computer programs with built-in checks, undergo
prescreening by the IRS and experience no keypunch errors.”  

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