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New National Taxpayer Advocate is KPMG's Erin Collins

The U.S. Treasury Department and IRS have named an ex-KPMG executive to succeed Nina E. Olson as National Taxpayer Advocate. 

Erin M. Collins comes to the role of NTA – held by Olson for 18 years – from KPMG’s Tax Controversy Services practice, where she most recently had been a managing director of its Western Area.

Prior to this, Collins served an attorney in the Office of Chief Counsel for the IRS for 15 years.

An official statement announcing Collins's appointment noted that "throughout her career, she represented individuals, partnerships and corporate taxpayers on technical and procedural tax matters, and has also provided pro bono services to taxpayers to resolve disputes with the IRS.

"For the past decade, Ms Collins has dedicated significant time and energy to inspire professional women to work with [teen-aged] girls from under-resourced communities, through after-school and weekend mentorship programs. 

"She also donated her time to non-profit boards focusing on under-served communities [in which] English is typically the second language spoken at home."

She is also described as having "spoken frequently on IRS practice, procedure, controversy and litigation matters", and is co-author of the Practising Law Institute’s Internal Revenue Service Practice and Procedure Deskbook  (US$832.39 from Amazon.com).

NTA role 'vacant for seven months'

The role of NTA had been vacant since the end of last July, with Bridget T. Roberts served as the Acting National Taxpayer Advocate during the interim.

In January, Richard E. Neal, the chairman of the Democrat-controlled Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee chairman John Lewis pointedly called for the "immediate appointment" of a successor to Olson, who had announced her pending retirement at the beginning of March, 2019.

In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Collins would be “an outstanding voice for American taxpayers”, and noted that she came to the role with “a wealth of experience representing a broad range of taxpayers”.

“Erin is the ideal candidate to help the IRS modernize and improve service for American families and businesses," Mnuchin added. 

The NTA is described as being "the voice” of America's 153 million individual and 11 million business taxpayers. As NTA, Collins will serve as a senior adviser to IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, to whom she also reports, in addition to reporting to Congress on those areas of tax law that impose significant burdens on taxpayers or the IRS, including recommending potential legislative changes. 

As NTA, Collins will also be a member of a team that has been charged with helping to modernize the IRS and contributing to its strategic management.

One of her greatest challenges, though, could be following in the footsteps of her outspoken predecessor. 

Olson was nine years into her tenure as National Taxpayer Advocate when the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act was signed into law in 2010 by President Obama, and resulted in American expats around the world suddenly struggling to maintain bank accounts overseas, and being told that they owed the U.S. government for unpaid taxes they didn't know they were even expected to pay.

As a result, over the next nine years, as NTA, Olson criticized the IRS for the way it was enforcing FATCA, and its ability to tax non-resident Americans on the basis of America's citizenship-based tax regime.

One of her fiercest attacks came in her 2013 Annual Report to Congress, in January 2014, when she said the IRS had been too hard on those Americans who had come forward to disclose their unreported overseas bank accounts.

Rather than rewarding those who were honest enough to step forward and admit they had offshore accounts to declare, the IRS's offshore voluntary disclosure schemes, which at that point had been in use since 2009, had instead “burdened ‘benign actors’ who inadvertently violated the rules," Olson charged.

The disclosure programs, she went on, had been been “punitive, charging average penalties of more than double the unpaid tax and interest associated with the unreported accounts.”

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