taxpayer advocacy panelWhen it comes to paying taxes, many citizens feel as though they aren’t heard. After all, the IRS seems like a huge agency that is far removed from the experiences of taxpayers. In past years, the IRS has received poor marks for customer service, although some of the perceptions about the IRS are changing.

One of the ways the IRS learns how to improve its customer service is through recommendations from the taxpayers themselves. Members of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) consider the issues that affect citizens, and then make recommendations to the IRS.

What is the TAP?

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel was established back in 2002. This is an advisory committee at the federal level, and it is made up of volunteers. Those serving on the TAP are not employees of the government, and they donate their time. Members of the TAP come from all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico. An effort to make the TAP demographically diverse has been made over the years in order to get a wide representation of citizen taxpayers, including expatriates and dual citizens.

It’s not a cushy volunteer position, either. Members of TAP are expected to serve for three years, and donate between 200 and 300 hours of service a year. It’s a weighty responsibility that includes attending committee meetings and training, as well as outreach events. Many meetings can be handled via online means, but some travel is required.

Members of TAP are supposed to consider tax forms and IRS procedures, and then work together to recommend changes. Recently, the IRS announced the addition of 29 new members to TAP.

How Does One Join TAP?

You can’t just sign up to become a member of TAP. First of all, you have to fill out an application. There are set application periods, and you have to fill out your application during those times. It’s possible to go to the TAP website and sign up for alerts to find out when an opening is available in your local area so that you can apply.

Once you’ve applied, your submission is evaluated. The TAP usually has right around 80 members at any time (right now there are 75), and efforts are made to replace members when their three-year terms are up. Members are chosen based on various criteria.

It can be a good way to serve your community, and work closely with the IRS. If you are chosen as a member of TAP, you can learn about the tax issues impacting your community, and suggest changes to the IRS. Many of the recommendations from TAP have been implemented by the IRS over the years.

We live in a country where one of the founding principles is the idea that people should have access to their government. Advocacy and advisory councils provide one way to get involved with policy. If you are interested in tax policy, it might be worth it to sign up for information about TAP, and then apply to join next time there are openings.