IRS Appeals Conferences During the Pandemic.

AuthorColgin, Bill

The Expert: Bill Colgin

A few months after COVID-19 closed Internal Revenue Service buildings and employees were sent home to work remotely, the reality of a backlog of pending matters led IRS Appeals to awaken and move forward again. Appeals officers, Exam teams, and taxpayer representatives tentatively began holding Appeals conferences and meetings using Webex and recentiy ZoomGov, the approved online video conferencing platforms for IRS Appeals. A growing familiarity with remote working, paired with the availability of online video and screen-sharing platforms, resulted in unexpectedly fruitful Appeals processes for taxpayers during the pandemic.

Question: How has the IRS Appeals process changed during the pandemic?

In-person IRS Appeals conferences, a fixture of large-case issues, were canceled overnight. The extinction of in-person meetings happened at a time when online platform solutions and improving at-home internet bandwidth allowed for large-scale use of effective tools for remote work and virtual communication. Many of us had used online platforms for years and shared best practices with others from the beginning. Necessity led to accelerated competency. Presentations, debate, and negotiations quickly adapted to screen sharing and video conversations in virtual IRS Appeals conferences. We lost the ability to read the nonverbal cues of the audience in the room. We gained the ability for one person to speak at a time and the ability to focus all participants on specific statements in documents, rows on spreadsheets, and regulatory provisions through screen sharing. We also no longer needed to coordinate in-person meetings that called for people to travel from many locations. Everyone participated from a location of choice, eliminating the need for travel, at least for the time being. Conference calls, long the preferred alternative to travel and in-person meetings, slowed to a trickle but also became a polite way to preemptively decline having to show up on video.

IRS Appeals Teams and Taxpayers' Representatives Went Digital

Many government and private buildings closed off access to offices and files in offices. Although many had long ago converted to digital files, those holding out no longer had a choice. Unlike in pre-pandemic times, nearly everyone now seemed to have immediate access to digital documents during online conferences and meetings. Such ready access to digital documents heightened the point/counterpoint discourse...

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