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IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Arm Gets Another No Nonsense Leader

Feb. 28, 2020, 9:45 AM

Treasury’s pick to lead an independent IRS office tasked with helping resolve taxpayers’ disputes won’t be afraid to speak her mind—just like her predecessor, tax professionals said.

Former KPMG director Erin Collins was announced as the new national taxpayer advocate Thursday. She brings years of litigation experience as former managing director for KPMG LLP’s Western Tax Controversy Services practice. As a 20-year veteran with the firm, she represented a number of clients in cases before the U.S. Tax Court, including investment services company Charles Schwab Corp.

As the leader of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, Collins will be responsible for overseeing about 1,800 employees assisting millions of taxpayers across the U.S.

Her background, which also includes 15 years as an attorney in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, is very different from that of her predecessor Nina Olson, who stepped down as the national taxpayer advocate last summer after 18 years on the job. Olson started the first independent low-income taxpayer clinic in the U.S.

Olson was known as someone who took the role of national taxpayer advocate very seriously and wasn’t afraid to get on the IRS’s bad side.

Despite her years working for the agency, those who know Collins said they expect her to have a similar no-nonsense attitude.

“She’s not going to take any BS,” said Frank Agostino, the founder and president of Agostino & Associates P.C. in Hackensack, New Jersey. Agostino has co-authored tax articles with Collins.

If anything, according to Agostino, her IRS experience should be a bonus.

“Only someone who really understands the system and how things work can fix it,” he said.

Olson wasn’t available for a comment.

Tax Procedure, Corporate Background

The national taxpayer advocate was a position created by Congress in the late 1990s to be the “voice” of the taxpayer. The advocate writes annual reports to Congress flagging issues it sees within the agency and regularly is called to testify on issues like the agency’s budget.

Because of her litigation experience, Collins will have the expertise to ensure that every taxpayer gets the full measure of procedural and substantive due process afforded to them by Congress, Agostino said.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised a concern about Collins’s corporate background.

“She has spent the past two decades at one of the most prominent accounting firms in the country, so I’d particularly like to discuss her priorities for improving IRS customer service for working folks,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

Lavar Taylor, founder of Law Offices of A. Lavar Taylor, said Collins’ background representing primarily corporate taxpayers shouldn’t affect her ability to serve the low-income taxpayers that are often most in need of the Taxpayer Advocate Service’s help.

“While those types of people were not her regular clients, she has a very strong background in tax procedure,” said Taylor, who worked with Collins at the IRS and has known her for more than 30 years.

She also has a very good understanding of what the taxpayer advocate role entails, he said.

“So I don’t think you’re going to see a tilt away from the people who need the help of the advocate,” Taylor said.

April Start

The IRS has previously said that Collins is expected to start in her new role in early April. At that time, Bridget Roberts, who has been serving as the acting leader at the Taxpayer Advocate Service, will return to her former position as deputy national taxpayer advocate.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said Thursday that he has a “high degree of respect” for Olson bringing the office to its current status.

Collins is “going to be spectacular,” he said in remarks at the International Fiscal Association conference in Boston.

“She will come out, and she will meet with you, talk to you,” he said.

—With assistance from Isabel Gottlieb.

To contact the reporter on this story: Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; Colleen Murphy at cmurphy@bloombergtax.com