OMAHA, Neb. — Taxpayers were given the chance to turn the tables on the Internal Revenue Service, responding to the agency's request for an audit of its services.
A forum on Thursday — one of three nationwide this year — let taxpayers complain, suggest changes and quiz the nation's top advocate for taxpayers on everything from phone menus to identity theft.
Taxpayer concerns ranged widely. One woman spoke of waiting 40 minutes on the phone for an IRS agent to help her with a simple question. A man asked why the IRS doesn't provide computer software so taxpayers can submit returns online for free.
"I filed for years online and had to pay my fee to an online company," said Bill Riley, 37, of Council Bluffs, Iowa. "I don't understand why the IRS can't do it."
Nina E. Olson, the national taxpayer advocate who moderated Thursday's forum, told Riley she's asked Congress for years to ask the agency to develop the software.
"I will not shut up about that, I think it's very important," she said.
Olson reports to Congress about IRS practices. She said she's responsible for identifying 20 things the IRS could change or improve each year, and many of those suggestions come directly from taxpayers.
About 60 people came to the forum at the University of Nebraska Alumni Center, complaining about taxes for farmers and small businesses, identity theft and even paying taxes at all. The forum was organized by the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, a federally funded organization of 100 people that monitors IRS policies and procedures, with representatives in each state and the District of Columbia.
A similar forum was held in New York on March 6, and another is scheduled in Phoenix for next week.
Bernard Coston, director of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, said the three cities were chosen based on demographics.
The New York forum, held in Brooklyn, focused on low-income taxpayers, he said. Omaha's meeting was geared for small business while the meeting in Phoenix was to focus on the elderly.
Coston said he wasn't sure how many suggestions from the forums had been implemented since the meetings began last year.
"The key point is those issues were brought out," Coston said.
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