IRS turns to Web to explain its errors

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mindful that its mistakes can affect lots of people, the IRS is now operating an Internet Web site to describe errors and what taxpayers should do about them.

“We know that even a little glitch in an IRS system can affect many thousands of taxpayers,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said Monday. “They need to be alerted to the problem and what we’re doing to fix it.”

The Internal Revenue Service’s “special taxpayer alerts” page located in the “What’s Hot” section at is part of an IRS effort to ensure its just-completed overhaul of most key computers to comply with year 2000 does not cause undue hardship for taxpayers.

The IRS has spent 18 months rewriting an estimated 50 million lines of code to be ready for 2000, when some computers could go haywire if they mistakenly read the last two “00” digits as 1900.

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”We’re in excellent shape for this tax filing season, but we all know that glitches can occur in a system as large and as old as the IRS,” Rossotti said.

Examples of possible errors include huge tax notices, refund delays, mistakes in IRS publications or failure to properly credit taxpayer accounts. The Web site will enable the IRS to let people know if their particular problem has wider implications and what do to about it.

At the close of business last Monday, this was on the IRS Web site: “We have no problems to report to date.”

But elsewhere on the Web site, the IRS had previously posted corrections to certain tax publications complete with links enabling people to download the new version.

Also last Monday, the IRS unveiled a draft proposal providing $2 million in grants to organizations that set up legal assistance for low-income taxpayers involved in tax disputes.

Each low-income tax clinic can qualify for up to $100,000 in grants, which will be awarded this summer. The taxpayer would pay a “nominal fee” to be set later to receive the assistance.

The IRS already offers some tax dispute assistance to the poor and elderly, but not in a centralized clinic format that can also specialize in helping those for whom English is not the first language, said Marilyn Soulsburg, IRS assistant commissioner for customer service.

”We want taxpayers across the nation to have the same opportunity to get help,” Soulsburg said.

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