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IRS to publicize 'Bill of Rights' for taxpayers, including right to 'fair and just' tax system

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WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service wants to read taxpayers their rights.

The agency is publicizing a "Bill of Rights" for taxpayers, including the right to quality service, the right to confidentiality and the right to a fair and just tax system, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen announced Tuesday.

Koskinen acknowledged that none of the 10 rights is new. All are buried somewhere in the thick pages of the federal tax code.

But going forward, the IRS will post the rights at IRS offices, and include an explanation of each one when the agency contacts taxpayers by mail. Koskinen said the list will be included in about 30 million mailings a year.

"We're not creating new rights here," Koskinen said. "We're really trying to compile them in a simple understandable format for taxpayers."

Some rights will be limited by budget constraints and the law.

For example, the right to quality service says, "Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous, and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS." However, Koskinen said, budget cuts have diminished the agency's ability to answer questions from taxpayers.

As for the right to a fair and just tax system, Koskinen said: "We do the best we can with the code we have."

Koskinen took over the top IRS job in January, tasked with stabilizing an agency that had spent much of past year under siege. Several top officials, including the acting commissioner, were forced to resign last year after revelations that IRS agents had improperly singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

Koskinen said the new initiative is designed to improve taxpayer confidence in the IRS and the law. But, he said, it was not prompted by the ongoing controversy.

"Everything that I'm doing is in a context in which we've obviously had and still have six investigations going on," Koskinen said. But, he added, "This was not something that I thought of in terms of those investigations."

Koskinen said he got the idea from Nina E. Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate Olson has been lobbying for the taxpayer Bill of Rights since 2007. She runs an independent office within the IRS.

"This is a real issue that has real impact on taxpayers," Olson said. "If you don't know what your rights are, you will never avail yourself of those rights."

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Online: IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1.pdf

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

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