Appeals Virtual Conferences - WebEx
Recently, the IRS Independent Office of Appeals (Appeals) conducted a pilot using WebEx software for virtual conferencing. Most taxpayers who participated in WebEx conferences during the pilot indicated they would prefer WebEx over traditional phone calls for future conferences with Appeals. As a result of the pilot, Appeals has expanded the availability of WebEx for conferences in cases pending with Appeals. Under this expansion, Appeals Officers (AOs) who volunteer to use WebEx may choose to offer WebEx conferences to taxpayers and/or representatives who have individual or business cases pending with Appeals. The goal of these conferences is to provide a virtual face-to-face opportunity, improving communication between the parties and assisting in resolution of the tax matters at issue.
- Why is Appeals offering WebEx conferences? Appeals’ objective in offering WebEx conferences is to provide taxpayers and their representatives an additional conference option, in addition to a telephone conference or an in-person conference. The purpose of an Appeals conferences is to provide taxpayers the opportunity to be heard and present their position to Appeals, allowing Appeals to resolve tax controversies, without litigation, on a basis which is fair and impartial to both the taxpayer and the government. Some taxpayers may feel they can best present their position to Appeals through an in-person conference at an Appeals office. Others may prefer the telephone. A WebEx videoconference allows taxpayers to be both seen and heard, and to share documents, without being physically present. While taxpayers who are geographically remote from an IRS office might find WebEx a useful and more economical alternative to traveling for an in-person conference, even taxpayers who are not geographically remote may prefer the convenience of WebEx.
- Will WebEx replace in-person conferences? No. WebEx will not replace in-person conferences in Appeals. Appeals’ aim is to provide taxpayers and their representatives the ability to have their case heard. Appeals will continue to interact with taxpayers and their representatives through correspondence, telephone conferences and in-person conferences, when requested. WebEx is simply an additional conference option, not a replacement for in-person conferences.
- What will I need to participate in a virtual conference? You will need a computer, tablet, or other mobile device with a high-speed internet connection; video camera capabilities are preferred. You will also need WebEx software installed on your device for optimal performance, although there is an option to run a temporary application to join the meeting. If you do not have a video camera, you can still participate in a WebEx conference for audio and the visual sharing of documents and will be able to see other participants who use their cameras.
- What is WebEx Software? WebEx is free commercial software, made by Cisco, which provides meeting participants the ability to share computer screens, video, and audio. It has been approved for use by the IRS, for purposes of visually sharing information. Using this service allows all parties to participate in an interactive conference to discuss all the facts and/or legal positions. For an overview of WebEx, you may wish to view this YouTube video.
- Who is eligible for a virtual conference? Not all cases before Appeals will be offered a WebEx conference, as only certain Appeals Officers (AOs) who volunteer to use WebEx will be involved. These AOs will provide you the option of conducting a WebEx conference in their initial contact with you. You will need to meet the equipment and software requirements as stated in paragraph 3 above. Appeals will not conduct a WebEx conference unless you agree to it. If you desire a WebEx conference but the AO assigned to your case does not use WebEx, you will have to conduct your conference using more traditional means; your case will not be transferred to an AO who uses WebEx.
- Why won’t all Appeals employees offer WebEx? WebEx is new technology to Appeals. Because it’s new, Appeals employees can incorporate it as an additional conference option on a voluntary basis. We are not requiring Appeals employees to use WebEx just like we’re not requiring taxpayers to use it.
- How do I get and install WebEx software? You can test your system’s compatibility with WebEx by visiting the Cisco site at www.webex.com/test-meeting.html. If you choose, you can also download the WebEx software from this site. When you agree to a WebEx conference, the AO will email you a link to attend the conference. This email will include information on how to join the conference and optimize the audio portion.
- I didn’t think the IRS sent emails. How is this allowed? Internal Revenue Manual 10.5.1.6.8.1, Emails to Taxpayers and Representatives, provides that when a taxpayer requests email contact and accepts the risk, the IRS may send an email with a brief, unencrypted message confirming the date, time or location of an upcoming appointment. However, we are not permitted to include information about the nature of the appointment or send any follow-up email discussing your account or case.
- Is the WebEx virtual conference secure? Yes. The WebEx conference is hosted on an internal IRS WebEx server and has the same level of security and privacy as a telephone call. Appeals will not record WebEx meetings and, although documents can be shared onscreen, no actual file transfer will take place.
- Can I join a WebEx conference from public location? While you can participate in a WebEx conference from a public location with internet access (library, coffee shop, etc.), it is not advised as you may be exposing your private information to others. If you choose to use a public location, you are responsible for ensuring the privacy of the conference and the AO may terminate the conference if he or she has concerns about the potential for disclosure.
- What are the benefits of WebEx? A WebEx conference (1) provides a virtual face-to-face opportunity to meet, ensuring engagement and facilitating communication, (2) reduces the time and effort associated with taxpayer travel to an Appeals office, and (3) allows visual presentation of information in real time.
- If I visually share a file or application, what do the other participants see? The other participants in the WebEx conference only see the file or application you select to share. They can’t see your desktop, other pop-up menus or folders that may display on your screen while you are choosing the file to share.
- Are there any limitations with WebEx conferences? As with many such applications, technical difficulties may arise. Audio and video efficiency may be affected by internet connectivity, bandwidth, and the equipment and operating systems being used by each party to the conference. While it is the desire of Appeals to have each WebEx conference run smoothly, we recognize that technical difficulties may impact the success of each meeting. In the event your WebEx conference encounters such difficulties, the AO will conference with you using more traditional means.
- How will WebEx be used in conferences? WebEx has many features, but Appeals is not using all of them. Appeals will use the videoconference, document viewing, and chat features of WebEx. Appeals is not using the WebEx features for recording a conference or for the electronic transfer of files.