Prepared Remarks John A. Koskinen Commissioner Internal Revenue Service before the CERCA Fall Meeting Arlington, VA November 2, 2016
Hello and good afternoon. I’ve had the honor of speaking at CERCA’s Fall Meeting three years in a row, and I’m delighted to be here again this year.
I’m also delighted to congratulate Mike on his retirement later this year. Two years ago when I met Mike through CERCA and the Security Summit, we talked about creating the broadest possible coalition of experts in the field of security and identity theft. Identity theft was a problem only getting worse with time. Mike’s done a terrific job bringing industry experience and knowledge to the table, and I think we can all agree he’s played an integral role, helping make sure we get this right. Mike, we thank you for your service and wish you the best in retirement.
More broadly, thanks to members of this great organization for being here this afternoon and for dedicating your valuable time and talents to CERCA’s important work. I’m very proud of our partnership and in particular, what’s been accomplished through the various working groups that CERCA members support. The groups focused on Health Care, Online Services and the Security Summit – to name a few – are making outstanding contributions. I know you too have a limited number of people to apply to these diverse needs, but the efforts are paying off for you and the tax system.
Today I’d like to tell you what’s new around some of our most important issues this year: identity theft, the IRS budget and special reminders taxpayers need to have for the upcoming filing season.
First, let’s start with identity theft and in particular, those IRS impersonators on the phone and online where real progress is being made. We continue ramping up efforts to help victims of identity theft and warn people about emerging scams. Unfortunately, the robo-calls and scams continue. You may have personal experience with this.
In fact, by a show of hands, how many of you have gotten a call from one of these IRS impostors…from a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, who clearly wasn’t?
It’s amazing because everywhere I go, I get the same response. IRS impersonation scams have plagued taxpayers nationwide. I want to assure you that we will continue doing everything we can to warn people about these scams. We have an aggressive education campaign, and again this year: We’re urging taxpayers to watch out for scams — old and new.
We also continue working with law enforcement in what’s become a full court press against the criminals. You may recall last month that law enforcement authorities in India shut down a major call center with 700 people making thousands of calls impersonating the IRS.
We were also delighted with the announcement last week by the Department of Justice and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that they have indicted 56 people here and in India for their participation in these scams.
These two events sent a clear, law-enforcement message to the criminals behind these scams, which affect other government agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, that the risks and costs for them of these scams are going up.
We have also been making great progress through the work of the Security Summit. You may have heard some of those details this morning in Ken Corbin’s presentation.
This past year, we had near-universal participation among industry partners sharing leads on suspicious returns being filed. Tomorrow the Security Summit group, which has now been made permanent through our ETAAC structure, will meet and share more information about what’s planned for 2017.
One of our new initiatives with the Security Summit was the subject of a panel discussion earlier today on the “Information Sharing and Analysis Center.” As you heard from that discussion, we are standing up a pilot program this year in time for the coming filing season. During this pilot, we will test a more robust capacity to receive and analyze leads of potentially fraudulent returns. The governance structure describing how the ISAC will work is in the final stages of development. There are many details to figure out, but we are looking forward to getting underway.
In the meantime, we continue adding additional layers of protection to our systems and online applications. As we get better at stopping instances of unauthorized access, the criminals we’re battling begin to search for other ways to obtain the information needed to file a more successful, fraudulent refund. We need to anticipate where that will happen and increase our protections as quickly as possible.
Many of you know we decided to take down the e-File PIN program earlier this year. It was a difficult, but necessary, measure we had to take. As I testified to Congress, the number of attacks on our systems are stunning. We currently withstand more than one million attempts to maliciously access them each day.
As always, our activities in these and other areas are constrained by our budget. Right now, the IRS is operating under a continuing resolution set to run out December 9. Like everyone, we’re waiting to see how this issue gets resolved after the election.
As you know, for the first time in six years, we received a significant increase in funding for fiscal year 2016 – $290 million for taxpayer service, identity theft and cybersecurity. As the significant improvement in our level of phone service the last filing season demonstrated, there’s a simple algorithm at work here. If you give the IRS more money, we’ll hire more people to answer the phones and enforce the tax code. If you give us less, the reverse is true. We hope the appropriators fully appreciate this relationship.
One of the most important voices in this budget discussion is yours. You know first-hand the importance of having an IRS with enough people and enough resources to support the tax system. People count on us to process their returns in a way that’s efficient and effective. They also count on us to protect their tax refunds. So I can tell you that your support of our budget requests has a real impact and we appreciate it.
At this point, I’d like to discuss three major changes for this upcoming tax season. In total, these changes are designed to help improve compliance and prevent fraud. And all three have implications for the filing season.
The first major change is a new, earlier deadline for filing Form W-2 and other information returns. Beginning this filing season, W-2s must be filed with the Social Security Administration January 31. Social Security is working with us to provide those W-2s to us with a minimal delay.
Having W-2s earlier will make it easier for us to verify the legitimacy of tax returns at the point of filing and to spot fraudulent returns. We also expect this new deadline to assist in the quicker release of refunds for those returns we are able to verify. This means taxpayers are less likely to face unnecessary delays in their refunds due to false positive fraud indicators.
We are also expanding a pilot program we ran last year with W-2s. Many of you were involved in the test we ran with several payroll service providers, adding a verification code to about 2 million W-2s. We used that code to confirm the accuracy of returns filed electronically and the results were overwhelmingly positive. For 2017, we’re expanding the pilot test to include as many as 50 million W-2s.
We couldn’t make that expansion happen without the software industry’s support, which we greatly appreciate.
The second major change applies to tax refunds, and we don’t want anyone caught by surprise.
People claiming certain tax credits will have to wait until February 15 or later to get their tax refund. The change approved by Congress applies only to certain returns -- those claiming the Earned Income or Additional Child Tax Credits. The purpose of holding those refunds until at least February 15 is relatively simple. It gives the IRS more time to verify the income claimed on these returns. And through that data matching, we’re in a better position to stop fraud and identity theft.
Those who are eligible for EITC may wonder if they should wait to file, and the answer is no. Even if a person plans to claim any of those refundable credits, they should file as they normally would. Waiting to file will just delay your refund further.
We know a tax refund can be the biggest single payment many taxpayers receive each year and some people count on those refunds to pay for holiday bills and other expenses. So we’re doing everything we can to make sure people are ready for these changes. Later this month and through the holidays, we’ll be sharing that information widely. And we still anticipate issuing more than 9 out of 10 refunds in 21 days or less.
The third major change for this filing season applies to people without Social Security numbers who file their tax return using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number – also known as the ITIN. Over the last 20 years, the IRS has issued about 21 million ITINs, so we’re talking about a large group of taxpayers.
Pursuant to new legislation, the IRS will renew ITINs on a rolling basis. I want to emphasize that not everybody with an ITIN has to take action. The changes first apply to two groups of ITIN holders. ITINs of taxpayers in both groups expire at the end of 2016.
The first group encompasses people who haven’t used their ITINs on a federal tax return at all in the last three years. The renewal period for these ITINs began October 1. The second group involves people who have an ITIN issued before 2013. Those ITIN numbers are being renewed on a rolling basis.
This next filing season, if a person files using an expired ITIN, the return will be accepted by the IRS; however, there may be a delay in processing those returns, and certain credits may not be allowed unless the ITIN is renewed.
A related question is from businesses who file information returns. Expired or not, ITINs may continue to be used for information return purposes. We have all the information on our website, but again, we urge taxpayers to plan ahead and take action now.
How does that affect you and your CERCA colleagues? We expect a surge of demand in January as people realize they need to renew their ITIN. That could delay their being able to file their tax return, so we encourage ITIN recipients to renew as soon as possible in the next few weeks.
We’re trying to address that potential bottleneck by encouraging taxpayers to also look into using Certifying Acceptance Agents as one of their options to renew. Certifying Acceptance Agents are people outside the IRS who review the necessary documents and forward the completed application forms to the IRS. They’ll be a critical part of helping us get those ITINs renewed before filing season.
As you can tell, we have no shortage of special reminders, which makes your support even more essential. CERCA has been – and will remain – a critical partner in the days ahead, which brings me to the other question most people are asking about this time of year:
When does filing season begin? At this point, we think filing season would begin and the IRS would start accepting returns as usual before the end of January. Of course, we’ll have the exact date in the near future, and we’ll share that information widely. There are many variables to consider, including the complicated testing of our IT systems to make sure they are ready.
We have many challenges and opportunities as we continue to evolve to meet the needs of taxpayers. And based on my experience, I know the agency will continue to deliver on our mission – not only because we have a terrific workforce, but also because of you. So thank you for the work you have done and thank you for the work you will do in service to taxpayers around the world. Have a great meeting, and good luck.