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Substantial Changes to Partnership Tax Audit Procedures will Severely Impact Partner Liability and Rights Before the IRS

Does your client own an interest in a partnership or an entity treated as a partnership for US tax purposes?  If so, you better take notice because the new partnership tax audit rules are making drastic changes as of January 1, 2018.  The new rules, known as “BBA,” will administer a tax deficiency at  the partnership level, unless certain elections are made.  These rules are a significant departure from the old rules, known as “TEFRA”, which administered a tax deficiency at the individual partner level.  All partnerships will need to amend their respective partnership agreements to take the BBA changes into consideration.  What should a partnership or its partners be concerned about?

Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the major concerns of these new procedures:

Have you chosen a Partnership Representative (“PR”) under the BBA rules? If so, have you set forth the limitations and obligations of the PR?

  • Once the BBA Rules are effective, all authority over the partnership tax audit lies with the PR
  • The BBA procedures give the PR statutory authority to bind all partners with respect to all actions taken by the partnership in the BBA administrative proceeding and in any judicial proceeding
  • Since the PR is the exclusive party to act on behalf of the partnership, the PR may also, in effect, bind all partners to extensions of the statute of limitations, settlements and available elections

Does your existing partnership agreement require the partnership or the PR to provide notice to all partners of a IRS audit?

  • The BBA procedures abolish all partner-level notices of IRS actions that existed under TEFRA
  • Unlike the TEFRA rules, under BBA there is no affirmative obligation for the Internal Revenue Service, the partnership or the PR to send a notice of an IRS audit to each partner
  • Without revising the partnership agreement, a partnership audit could occur and be resolved without the partners’ knowledge

Does your existing partnership agreement contemplate who will be responsible for tax deficiencies?

  • Under the BBA procedures, unless the PR takes certain actions, tax deficiencies are assessed against the partnership in the year the controversy is resolved (known as the adjustment year) and not in the year which generated the tax deficiency (known as the reviewed year)
  • In effect, the economic burden of a tax deficiency could be borne by partners who had no interest in the partnership when the income/deduction was generated

Does your existing partnership agreement provide for opting-out of the BBA procedures?  If so, does the PR have an affirmative obligation to opt-out?

  • The BBA procedures allow smaller partnerships (with fewer than 100 partners) to elect to opt-out of the BBA rules and have the audit be administered at the partner rather than partnership level
  • Do you desire to have the audit administered at the partner level?  Are you concerned about the IRS expanding the audit to other parts of your business?
  • Are you willing to continue to be responsible for tax deficiencies for the years in which you held an interest in a partnership, even if you later sell such interest.

Does your existing partnership agreement provide for pushing-out tax deficiencies to the reviewed year partners?

  • The push-out election allows the partnership to pass on an adjustment to a former partner without providing them an opportunity to comment, contest, or even receive notice of the adjustment
  • If you exit a partnership are you willing to leave this decision up to the current PR?
  • As a former partner would you desire some control over these decision for which you are ultimately responsible?

The above items address some of the questions partnerships and partners should be thinking about before the BBA procedures go into effect on January 1, 2018.  It is recommended that all partnerships work with their tax counsel to perform a thoughtful and thorough review of their partnership agreements.  The only way to control the results of these new procedures is to be pro-active now before the rules go into effect.

Please contact Jeff Erney at jeffry.erney@dentons.com or Sunny Dhaliwal at sunny.dhaliwal@dentons.com

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Tax Court Disallows a $33 Million Charitable Donation Deduction Because Taxpayer Did Not Sufficiently Fill Out Form

Serving as a vivid reminder that it is vital that a taxpayer comply strictly and completely with the charitable deduction regulations, the Tax Court recently denied a $33 million charitable deduction in its entirety and imposed a gross valuation misstatement penalty because the taxpayer did not properly fill out Form 8283.

In Reri Holdings I, LLC v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. 1 (2017), a partnership donated an interest in a piece of property to the University of Michigan.  The donor retained an appraiser who assigned a fair market value of $33 million to the donation.  The taxpayer prepared a Form 8283 appraisal summary and included the form with its return.  The form indicated that the donor had acquired the donated interest through a purchase but did not include an amount for the donor’s “cost or other adjusted basis.”  Importantly, the Court does not state whether the taxpayer also attached the appraisal report prepared by the appraiser.

The Tax Court denied the entire deduction solely because the Form 8283 did not list the donor’s cost basis. According to the court, Congress prescribed strict substantiation requirements when claiming a charitable deduction over certain amounts in order “to alert the Commissioner to potential overvaluations of contributed property and thus deter taxpayers from claiming excessive deductions.”  A failure to comply with these requirements will result in a denial of the deduction, even if the amount of the deduction is correct.

A taxpayer can sometimes avoid this draconian result if it substantially complies with the regulations. Critically, a taxpayer does not do so if it fails to provide sufficient information to alert the IRS to a potential overvaluation.

That is precisely what the court determined happen here. By failing to list the adjusted cost basis of the property, as required by Treas. Reg. § 170A-13(c)(4)(ii)(E), the taxpayer did not comply with the regulations.  Omitting the cost basis “prevented the appraisal summary from achieving its intended purpose,” as “[t]he significant disparity between the claimed fair market value and the price [the taxpayer] paid to acquire [the property] just 17 months before it assigned [the property] to the University, had it been disclosed, would have alerted [the IRS] to a potential overvaluation of [the property].”  As such, the taxpayer did not substantially comply with the regulations and justified denying the entire deduction ab initio.

The Tax Court also imposed a 40% gross overvaluation penalty on the taxpayer. After finding the fair market value of the donation was only approximately $3 million, subjecting the taxpayer to the penalty, the court rejected the taxpayer’s reasonable cause defense.  Even though it had an appraisal, the court held that “a taxpayer must do more than simply accept the result of a qualified appraisal” and rejected, as immaterial, the taxpayer’s evidence of a second earlier appraisal that appeared to conform to the one prepared for the return.

Though not the subject of this litigation, it is important to note that there may be consequences to the appraiser, as well. With a judicial determination that the value claimed was grossly overstated, the appraiser may be subject to, among other things, a penalty pursuant to I.R.C. § 6695A.  If the IRS imposes a penalty on the appraiser, the IRS’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) may also take action, see Circular 230 § 10.60, and can reprimand or even disqualify the appraiser.

If you have any questions about this post or about how to ensure that you comply with the substantiation requirements before donating property, please contact Jeff Erney at Jeffry.Erney@dentons.com or Peter Anthony at peter.anthony@dentons.com

Supreme Court Agrees to Review Sweeping Tax Obstruction of Justice Decision

In a decision that could have far reaching consequences in both the civil and criminal tax realms, on June 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the conviction of Carlo Marinello, who was found guilty of obstructing justice by failing to maintain proper books and records and failing to file tax returns.

The Supreme Court will likely settle a dispute that emerged among the lower courts about the proper scope of the obstruction statute under the Internal Revenue Code. The Supreme Court’s decision will have obvious consequences in the criminal tax world.  That is plain.  What is less apparent, is the power the decision could have in a civil audit.  Depending on how the Supreme Court rules, it could provide the IRS a substantial criminal hammer to wield against taxpayers who dispose of, or fail to maintain, business records, even if they have no knowledge that a criminal investigation has begun.

The Supreme Court will likely hear argument on this case in the fall and issue a decision sometime after that. We will keep you updated on the case, so be sure to check back.

Background

The below facts come from the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In 1990, Carlos Marinello founded a freight service company that couriered packages between the United States and Canada. He kept little documentation of his income and expenses, and shredded or threw away any documentation that he may have had.  From 1992 onward, Mr. Marinello did not file personal or corporate tax returns.

In 2004, the IRS received an anonymous tip and opened a criminal investigation into Mr. Marinello and his company. That criminal investigation was closed the next year because the IRS could not determine if the unreported income was significant.  Mr. Marinello had no knowledge of that investigation.  Around that same time, he consulted with an attorney and an accountant who advised him he must file returns and maintain proper business records.  Despite that advice, Mr. Marinello did not do so.

The IRS was not done with Mr. Marinello yet. In 2009, the IRS re-opened the investigation and interviewed him. Mr. Marinello admitted to not filing returns and to shredding most of his business records.

The United States charged Mr. Marinello with nine counts of tax-related offenses. The conduct alleged in the indictment occurred prior to Mr. Marinello’s interview with the IRS in 2009.  One of the offenses charged was for obstruction of justice under 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a).  Section 7212(a) makes it a crime to “obstruct or impede . . . the due administration of this title.”  The government alleged that Mr. Marinello violated this section by, among other things, “failing to maintain corporate books and records for [his company]” and “destroying, shredding and discarding business records of [his company].” Mr. Marienllo was found guilty of the offense.

Decisions Below

Before the trial court, Mr. Marinello argued that to commit obstruction of justice under section 7212, one must have knowledge of a pending IRS investigation. The trial court rejected such an argument, holding that all that was necessary was for the jury to find that Mr. Marinello intended to obstruct the due administration of the Internal Revenue laws.  He appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City.

Before the Appeals Court, Mr. Marinello again argued that the obstruction statute requires knowledge of a pending investigation. A panel of the Second Circuit disagreed, holding that the statute “criminalizes corrupt interference with an official effort to administer the tax code, and not merely a known IRS investigation.”  In doing so, the Second Circuit aligned itself with 3 other appeals courts.  It also reinforced a circuit split, as the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio had reached a different conclusion on the same question.

Mr. Marinello sought review before the full Second Circuit. While the court declined to review the decision of the panel, two judges dissented from the denial of review and warned of the consequences of the court’s decision.  Judge Jacobs wrote ominously that if this decision was allowed to remain the law of the land, “nobody is safe: the jury charge allowed individual jurors to convict on the grounds, variously, that Marinello did not keep adequate records; that, having kept them, he destroyed them; or that, having kept them and preserved them from destruction, he failed to give them to his accountant.”  The decision affords, he wrote, “oppressive opportunity for prosecutorial abuse.”

Potential Consequences

As Judge Jacobs warned, should the Supreme Court uphold the decision, a taxpayer should be weary about engaging in any of the conduct, such as disposing of business records, that landed Mr. Marinello in jail. As Judge Jacobs so succinctly put it, “How easy it is under the panel’s opinion for an overzealous or partisan prosecutor to investigate, to threaten, to force into pleading, or perhaps (with luck) to convict anybody” (emphasis in the original).  Now, more than ever, it is important that taxpayers in civil cases are represented by competent counsel aware of the potential criminal pitfalls an otherwise cautious taxpayer may find themselves in.

Contact Jeff Erney for questions about this post.  Jeffry.Erney@dentons.com

IRS Urges Partnerships to Amend Partnership Agreements To Address Expanded Role of Partnership Representatives

The new partnership audit regime, enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (“BBA”), allows the IRS to assess and collect  unpaid tax at the entity level, rather than from individual partners.   The BBA is effective for tax years after 2017 and replaces the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (“TEFRA”).  Under TEFRA, a partnership designates one of its partners as the “tax matters partner” (“TMP”) to act for the entity in proceedings with the IRS.  Instead, in the BBA regime, that person is called the “partnership representative” (“PR”) and has far greater authority than a TMP.  It is imperative that all partnerships understand the changes that are coming and prepare accordingly.

Most significantly, the PR is the exclusive point of contact with the IRS and has the sole responsibility to bind both the partnership and all of the partners to his or her actions.   At a conference on June 16, Brendan O’Dell, an attorney-adviser in the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy, emphasized the significance of understanding the difference between the TMP and PR.

Under TEFRA, the TMP was required to be a partner, and was subject to numerous obligations to other partners with regards to the partnership’s interactions with IRS. Under TEFRA, all partners other than the TMP had significant rights during an audit, including notification rights, the right to participate in proceedings and contradict the actions taken by the TMP.  During the audit and administrative appeals, the TMP did not have the authority to bind the other partners.

Conversely, under the BBA regime, the PR is not required to be a partner with “skin in the game” but rather can be any person, including a non-partner, provided they have a substantial presence in the U.S. Moreover, the PR has sole authority to bind the partnership, and all partners and the partnership are bound by the actions of the PR and any final decision during all stages of the proceeding (audit, appeals and litigation).  This includes the power to bind the partnership and all partners to extensions of the statute of limitations and available elections.  Other partners no longer have a statutory right to notice of, or to participate in, the partnership-level audit proceeding.  Moreover, the decisions of the PR can economically impact the partnership, current partners, and former partners.  For example, a PR has the ability to unilaterally decide whether an audit adjustment must be borne by the partnership or by the partners.

Thus, this expanded authority granted to the PR is likely to lead to disputes, and potentially litigation, between partners and the PR. According to Mr. O’Dell, in the event of such a dispute, the IRS will not get involved and “will still treat the actions of the partnership representative as binding on the partnership and to those partners.”  In order to alleviate such issues, the IRS emphasized addressing the authority of the PR in the partnership agreement before the BBA regime becomes effective, as many, but not all, of the powers granted to the PR under BBA may be circumscribed by the partnership agreement.  These issues, thus, “put a lot of pressure on the front end for drafting agreements” and adding in adequate protections, O’Dell said.

The IRS has made clear that once the new partnership audit rules are effective, it will exclusively communicate with and seek consent from the PR. Thus, any protection or notice afforded to partners, former partners, and the partnership must come from the partnership agreement.

We highly recommend that all partnerships review and revise their partnership agreements before the BBA takes effect (years after December 31, 2017) in order to address the changes of the new law.  Contact Jeff Erney for questions about this post or how a partnership can best structure its partnership agreement now before the BBA takes effect.  Jeffry.Erney@dentons.com

Leak of 1.3 Million Files from Bahamas Corporate Registry Provides Yet Another Starting Point for Government Investigations

Five months after the Panama Papers leak of offshore client files, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have released data from the corporate registry in the Bahamas pertaining to approximately 1.3 client million files. This information was originally leaked to of journalists at the German newspaper Süddeutche Zeitung, who reached out to the ICIJ to facilitate the public release of this information.

The Bahamas are yet another jurisdiction often referred to as a tax haven due to its secrecy laws and structuring possibilities attributable to the absence of taxes on company profits, capital gains, income and inheritance. The Bahamas claims to be a transparent jurisdiction with a public register of companies, but the information shared from the seat of government in Nassau is limited. Although the Bahamas Corporate Registry is supposed to contain the names and addresses of all directors and officers, there is no requirement to register the owners of a company with the authorities. Unlike the Cayman Islands and Jersey, the Bahamas has not responded to public pressure to introduce government-held registers of beneficial owners.

The leaked information contains the names of directors and some shareholders at nearly 176,000 shell companies, trusts and foundations registered between 1980 and 2016 in the Bahamas. Specifically, the data released include the leaked company’s name, its date of creation, the physical and mailing address in the Bahamas and, in some cases, the company’s directors.   The leaked documents also include the names of 539 registered agents, who served as intermediaries between Bahamian authorities and customers who wish to create an offshore company. Among them is Mossack Fonseca, the law firm whose leaked files formed the basis of the Panama Papers, which set up 15,915 entities in the Bahamas.

Because the secrecy laws in the Bahamas do not require information relating to beneficial owners, ICIJ noted that the information on the directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm may not “truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations.” However, the ICIJ stated in its report that the data released involved the basic building blocks of offshore companies, which can be used by investigators as “starting points on the trail of wrongdoing.”

Those US persons who have not come into compliance with their US tax obligations have yet another incentive to seek legal counsel. Questions regarding this post or the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs can be sent to Jim Mastracchio (james.mastracchio@dentons.com) or Sunny Dhaliwal (sunny.dhaliwal@dentons.com).

IRS Seeks to Speed Up FATCA Reporting with Imposition of Year End Deadline to Finalize IGAs

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) was enacted in 2010 by Congress to target non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers using foreign accounts. FATCA requires foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to report to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) information about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers, or by foreign entities in which U.S. taxpayers hold a substantial ownership interest.   FATCA obliges all U.S. paying agents to withhold tax, at a rate of 30 per cent, from payments of U.S. source income to non-U.S. persons who are classified as FFIs unless that FFI is located in a country which has entered into an intergovernmental agreement (“IGA”) with the IRS to report information on relevant account holders to the IRS.

An IGA is a bilateral agreement with the U.S. to simplify reporting compliance and avoid FATCA withholding. Under a Model 1 IGA, FFIs in partner jurisdictions report information on U.S. account holders to their national tax authorities, which in turn will provide this information to the IRS. Under a Model 2 IGA, FFIs report account information directly to the IRS.

Since the implementation of FATCA, the IRS has permitted numerous jurisdictions to benefit from having status as IGA, even if they did not have a finalized IGA in force. Notice 2013-43 (2013-31 I.R.B.113) provided that a jurisdiction that had signed but not yet brought into force an IGA was treated as if it had an IGA in effect as long as the jurisdiction was taking the steps necessary to bring the IGA into force within a reasonable period of time. Announcement 2014-17 (2014-18 I.R.B. 1001) and Announcement 2014-38 (2014-51 I.R.B. 951) provided that jurisdictions treated as if they have an IGA in effect also include jurisdictions that, before November 30, 2014, had reached an agreement in substance with the United States on the terms of an IGA as long as the jurisdiction continued to demonstrate firm resolve to sign the IGA as soon as possible. Notice 2015-66 (2015-41 I.R.B. 541) announced that FFIs in partner jurisdictions with a signed or “agreed in substance” Model 1 IGA that had not entered into force as of September 30, 2015, would continue to be treated as complying with, and not subject to withholding under, FATCA so long as the partner jurisdiction continued to demonstrate firm resolve to bring the IGA into force and any information that would have been reportable under the IGA on September 30, 2015, is exchanged by September 30, 2016, together with any information that is reportable under the IGA on September 30, 2016.

In Announcement 2016-17, however, the IRS pressures jurisdictions that have been lagging on this process to substantially complete it by year-end, or risk their FFIs to be subject to the 30 percent withholding in coming years. Specifically, the Announcement provides that, on January 1, 2017, Treasury will begin updating the IGA List to provide that certain jurisdictions that have not brought their IGA into force will no longer be treated as if they have an IGA in effect. Each jurisdiction with an IGA that is not yet in force and that wishes to continue to be treated as having an IGA in effect must provide to Treasury by December 31, 2016, a detailed explanation of why the jurisdiction has not yet brought the IGA into force and a step-by-step plan that the jurisdiction intends to follow in order to sign the IGA (if it has not yet been signed) and bring the IGA into force, including expected dates for achieving each step. In evaluating whether a jurisdiction will continue to be treated as if it has an IGA in effect, Treasury will consider whether: (1) the jurisdiction has submitted the explanation and plan (with dates) described above; and (2) that explanation and plan, as well as the jurisdiction’s prior course of conduct in connection with IGA discussions, show that the jurisdiction continues to demonstrate firm resolve to bring its IGA into force.

This Announcement reflects the IRS’s eagerness to gather information on U.S.-owned bank accounts in foreign jurisdictions, which has been repeatedly delayed due to the complexities that arose in the implementation of FATCA. The risk of the substantial withholding tax under FATCA for FFIs in non-IGA jurisdictions may incentivize lagging jurisdictions to speed the process along.

Tax Court Finds Predictive Coding Satisfies Reasonable Inquiry Standard for Responding to Discovery Requests

The Tax Court recently denied the Internal Revenue Service’s (“IRS”) motion to compel the production of electronically stored information by Petitioner, Dynamo Holding Limited Partnership, which was not delivered as part of a discovery response based on the mutually agreed-upon use of “predictive coding.” Dynamo holdings, Ltd. v. Comm’r, Docket Nos. 2685-11, 8393-12. Predictive coding is an electronic discovery method that involves the use of keyword search, filtering and sampling to automate portions of an e-discovery document review. This method attempts to reduce the number of irrelevant and non-responsive documents that need to be reviewed manually.

The IRS and Petitioners had agreed that Petitioners would run a search for terms determined by the IRS on the potentially relevant documents. Petitioners used the predictive coding model to provide the IRS with a selection of documents that the model determined to be relevant.

The IRS, believing the response to be incomplete, served Petitioners with a new discovery request asking for all documents containing any of a series of search terms under a simple keyword or Boolean search, speculating that these documents were “highly likely to be relevant.”   Petitioners objected to this new discovery request as duplicative of the previous discovery responses made through the use of predictive coding. Petitioners contended that the predictive coding algorithm worked correctly, and that the 765 documents excluded as not relevant by the predictive coding algorithm, were properly excluded because they were outside the relevant time frame or otherwise are not relevant. The IRS thereafter filed a motion to compel the production of these documents.

The Tax Court denied the motion, asserting that it was predicated on two myths. The first of these stated myths was the “myth of human review” that “manual review by humans of large amounts of information is as accurate and complete as possible – perhaps even perfect – and constitutes the gold standard by which all searches should be measured.” The second myth was “the myth of a perfect response,” which is beyond the requirements of the Tax Court Rules. The Tax Court found that that the Tax Court Rules and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the responding party make a “reasonable inquiry” when making a discovery response. The court explained that “when the responding party is signing the response to a discovery demand, he is not certifying that he turned over everything, he is certifying that he made a reasonable inquiry and to the best of his knowledge, his response is complete.”  As this standard was satisfied by Petitioners in their utilization of predictive coding to locate the relevant documents, the IRS’s attempt to expand e-discovery beyond the agreed upon predictive coding was unsuccessful.

IRS on Alert of Partners Attempting to Slip Through the Cracks Before New Partnership Audit Regime Takes Effect

Despite the significant uncertainty surrounding the new partnership audit regime implemented under the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act (Pub. L. No. 114-74) (“BBA”), the IRS expressed its intention to watch for partners exiting partnerships to avoid tax, during a District of Columbia Bar event on June 23, 2016.

The new rules, effective in 2018, require partnership-level audits of large partnerships, and make it simpler for IRS examiners to undertake an audit because the system will be able to calculate and collect adjustments at the partnership level.   Since there can be several years between when a return is filed and when an audit adjustment is levied, however, it leads to the possibility that partners could sell their interest before the commencement of an audit and avoid adjustments that may have been attributable to them.

Although the panel suggested amending partnership agreements so that partners who sell their interests would still be on the hook for any tax due later, it is unclear whether partners intending on exiting partnerships in light of the new rules would agree to such an amendment. Further, because of the vast uncertainty regarding various areas of the partnership audit rules, most partnerships are not amending their agreements at this time.

The IRS intends to issue regulations with an effective date of January 1, 2018, which would address the scope of the rules and how statute of limitations are applied in this context.   Many areas of uncertainty with the new rules, however, have not yet been addressed by the IRS.

One major area of uncertainty revolves around the “partnership representative,” which is an expanded version of the “tax matters partner” role under prior law. The partnership representative, which is not required to be a partner, will have sole authority to act on behalf of the partnership in an audit proceeding, and will bind both the partnership and the partners by its actions in the audit. The IRS no longer will be required to notify partners of partnership audit proceedings or adjustments, and partners will be bound by determinations made at the partnership level.

It appears that partners neither will have rights to participate in partnership audits or related judicial proceedings, nor standing to bring a judicial action if the partnership representative does not challenge an assessment. Accordingly, the partnership representative is vested with significant responsibility and power under the BBA, and would likely need to devote the majority of his or her time addressing these issues. This raises the possibility that certain individuals might be compensated for this role, and the role might be limited by the provisions of the partnership agreement. At the very least, there should be provisions in place to have a degree of control over elections made at the entity level, or final determinations at the entity level.

Another noteworthy area of concern is how the new rules would impact State tax filings. States have not yet reacted to the new rules, and thus, partners may be reluctant to make amendments until they are aware of both the state and federal implications of the audit rules. The IRS expects to issue guidance in stages to alleviate some of the concerns expressed by practitioners and allow them to move forward with amendments to partnership agreements.

Notwithstanding the uncertainty, it is clear that the IRS is watching for those seeking to take advantage of the new regime to avoid tax.

LB&I Introduces New Examination Process Designed to Provide Transparency and Collaboration

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Large and International Business (LB&I) has announced it will be implementing changes to its examination process, effective May 1, 2016.  LB&I’s new procedures are designed to provide an organizational approach for conducting professional examinations from the first contact with the taxpayer through the final stages of issue resolution.  By adopting these procedures, the IRS hopes to add efficiency to the examination process and permits the taxpayer and the examination team to work together in “the spirit of cooperation, responsiveness, and transparency.” Under the new procedures, the examination will be divided into three phases: planning, execution, and resolution, each of which focus on achieving certain specified goals.

The planning phase is focused upon identifying specific issues in the taxpayer’s case.  Once issues are identified, the exam team will explain to the taxpayer why each issue is being considered.  Thereafter, an issue team, comprising LB&I employees most familiar with the particular issue, will work with the taxpayer to establish the relevant facts.  Although a case manager will have overall responsibility for the case, each issue will have a designated manager who oversees the planning, execution and resolution of the issue.

During the execution phase, the issue teams will fully develop their particular issue, including determining the facts, applying the law to those facts, and understanding the various tax implications of the issue.  This process will include interactive discussions with the taxpayer followed by the issuance of Information Document Requests (IDRs) to develop the facts.  The new procedures note that a meaningful discussion with the taxpayer prior to issuing an IDR will result in a more effective process.  After gathering relevant facts, the issue team will document the agreed facts and obtain acknowledgement from the taxpayer with respect to the unagreed facts.

Finally, in the resolution phase, LB&I encourages its employees to use all available tools to resolve issues.  As facts have been fully developed and documented in the execution phase, the taxpayer and the issue team will be able to work more productively in the resolution stage.  Although there are numerous strategies to work towards resolution, LB&I requires its employees to consider Fast Track Settlement for all unagreed issues.  Fast Track consists of a mediation where the taxpayer, the issue team and Appeals must agree to participate and agree to a mutual resolution.   The goal of the resolution phase is tax certainty for both the taxpayer and LB&I.  Thus, at the conclusion of the resolution phase, taxpayers and LB&I may be asked to perform a joint critique of the exam process and recommend improvements.

LB&I emphasizes the significance of bringing all information to light as soon as possible to avoid issues relating to the expiration of the statute of limitations, or the possibility of new information coming to light during the Appeals process, which would return the case to Examination.  This policy is reflected in LB&I’s request that taxpayer’s bring any potential refund claim to the exam team’s attention as soon as possible.  LB&I specifically indicated it would only accept informal claims that are provided to the exam team within 30 calendar days of the opening conference.  If such claims are brought within that time period, they can be developed and processed by exam, providing higher possibilities for tax certainty for both the taxpayer & LB&I.  Refund claims submitted within this time period must meet the standards of Treas. Reg. § 301.6402-2, which provides that a valid claim must set forth in detail each ground upon which credit or refund is claimed, present facts sufficient to apprise the IRS of the exact basis for the claim, and contain a written declaration that it is made under penalties of perjury.   However, in the interest of incentivizing taxpayer’s to bring refund claims forward in a timely manner, LB&I has indicated it will discuss deficiencies not meeting the Treasury Regulations and provide the taxpayer an opportunity to correct the deficiencies.  If refund claims are not brought within the specified 30 days, they must be filed using the applicable amended tax return or Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.

The reorganization of the LB&I examination process reflects the IRS’s desire to achieve fair and final resolutions during the Examination Process that is achieved with an issue specific approach, involving issue teams that are well versed on the facts to fully develop the facts relevant to each issue.  Notably, Publication 5125 mentions the significance of meaningful discussions with the taxpayer on numerous occasions, including conversations to ensure the taxpayer fully understands the issues are identified, conversations prior to issuing IDRs, and acknowledgements of agreed and unagreed issues.  Upon its implementation, the IRS hopes the new examination process will allow LB&I to work transparently in a collaborative manner with the taxpayer to understand their business and share the issues that have been identified for examination.  This, in turn, should lead to LB&I’s ultimate goal of increasing the final resolutions reached during the exam process.

Please contact Jeffry Erney (jeffry.erney@dentons.com) or Sunny Dhaliwal (sunny.dhaliwal@dentons.com).