IRS shouldn't rush to digitize tax documents, paper makers say

Mar 27, 2017
Harman_Donna-WebBy Donna Harman
President & CEO
Washington Examiner, ​March 16, 2017

In a town populated with citizens whose phone is more of an appendage than an accessory, it may be difficult to believe that digital isn't always the preferred method of receiving information, especially during tax season. Millennials – those who are 18 to 34 years old – are more likely than any other age group to file a paper tax return, according to a survey from NerdWallet.

The survey found that 80 percent of millennial taxpayers are worried about making a mistake on their taxes. The tax code is complicated and can be confusing for anyone and many Americans prefer to have hard copies of transactions. Not to mention, many people have concerns about online security, especially in the wake of recent high-profile cyber hacks.

Additionally, many Americans lack online skills and not everyone has easy access to the Internet. Of adults, 30 percent don't have broadband access at home. For citizens older than age 65, this number rises to 53 percent. Almost half of all seniors don't even own a computer.

A government of the people should, above all others, know and meet the needs of its constituents. Yet, the IRS has plans to increase electronic communication and has repeatedly made moves to make it more difficult to get paper documentation.

The IRS announced that it would no longer mail tax forms to U.S. taxpayers in the 2014 tax season. In addition, the IRS discontinued sending the Tax Instruction Guide for individuals (Publication 17) to individual filers through the mail, and stopped equipping libraries or post offices with the booklet for distribution. Publication 17 is a critical resource for everyone filing their own tax returns. The only place to find the instructions on paper is through Government Printing Office, where a hard copy version has to be ordered for $10.

Nina Olson leads the Taxpayer Advocate Service and, in her appointed position as the National Taxpayer Advocate, is required by statute to report to Congress twice a year. In one of her reports to Congress last year, she wrote, "Based on our internal discussions with IRS officials, [we have] been left with the distinct impression that the IRS's ultimate goal is 'to get out of the business of talking with taxpayers.'"

The IRS should not be allowed to impose digital-only access as a one-size-fits-all requirement for taxpayers. Data show there are Americans who prefer paper forms or simply can't access digital-only information. These citizens have no less right to information than anyone else, nor can they reasonably expect leniency from the tax-filing process.

Our country expects its citizens to fulfill their obligation of filing annual taxes. In turn, our government has a responsibility to supply the necessary information in a manner that people can access. When completing the necessary and onerous tax process, people should at least be able to choose the manner in which they receive information and services from the federal government.

The rush to digitize government interactions is shortsighted and disenfranchises too many Americans.