Happy New Year! The new year brings a time to reflect back on the past year, on things that went well, things that went not-so-well, and how you would like to do things going forward.  In the spirit of looking back over the last year, the IRS Whistleblower Office released its FY 2017 Annual Report to Congress earlier than usual this year, right after New Year’s. 

In FY 2017, the Whistleblower Office paid $33,979,873 in awards (prior to the sequestration reduction), which was less than the $61,390,910 paid in FY 2016 and the $103,486,236 paid in FY 2015.  The $34 million of awards was spread across a total of 242 awards, 27 of these awards were paid under §7623(b).  The total number of awards paid in FY 2017 falls between the 418 awards paid in FY 2016 and the 99 awards paid in FY 2015. The number of awards paid in FY 2016 was extraordinarily high due to a push by the Whistleblower Office to resolve a backlog of old claims that would be categorized as falling under §7623(a).  Disregarding the number from FY 2016, which is largely attributable to the resolution of the backlog, the IRS Whistleblower Office has continued to grow the number of awards it pays each year.  But more importantly, the number of awards paid under §7623(b) increased by 50% over the number paid in FY 2016.  (The IRS Whistleblower Office paid 18 awards under §7623(b) in FY 2016, which was virtually the same as the 19 awards paid in FY 2015.)

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IRS Whistleblower Program has been a success for the IRS and tax administration as shown by the fact that only 6% of claims closed in FY 2017 (down from 7% in FY 2016) were closed because the IRS audited the issue and made no change to the taxpayer’s position.  That means if the IRS acts on a whistleblower’s information there is a very low probability that the IRS will not make an adjustment.  This statistic should be even lower than 6% because the IRS includes adjustments that are made but were non-Title 26 Collected Proceeds – like FBAR penalties within the same statistic.

Nevertheless, the IRS Whistleblower Office should be cautious that the program does not begin to stagnate.  Between the decrease in new submissions, the fact that nearly all new submissions are related to Small Business/Self-Employed Division issues, and the average time to process a claim for an award remained largely unchanged in FY 2017 from FY 2016, which was an increase from FY 2015; the IRS may have trouble making large award payments down the road if the IRS does not address some of the issues within the program and work to build additional support for the program in the operating divisions of the IRS.

The Annual Report made clear that when providing information to the IRS Whistleblower Office, whistleblowers need to ensure that their submissions are specific and credible because more than half (57%) of the claims closed in FY 2017 were closed because the Whistleblower Office found that the allegations in the claim were not specific, credible, or were speculative in nature.  A knowledgeable attorney can help put together a clear and concise submission that will give the whistleblower the best chance of receiving an award.

One final note: The Ferraro Law Firm again accounted for 22% of the §7623(b) awards (by number and by value) of the awards paid by the Whistleblower Office in FY 2017.  We are proud to be seeing success for our clients and happy to see the IRS recognizing the important contribution made by whistleblowers.

The IRS released the IRS Whistleblower Program Fiscal 2016 Annual Report to Congress recently. There were some interesting statistical revelations, some surprising and some not.  Among the more important, if not surprising, takeaways was the fact that nearly 60% of all cases are rejected for not being specific, credible, or for being too speculative.  Getting over this hurdle should be the number one goal of all IRS whistleblowers.  The best way to get over that hurdle is to have experienced tax lawyers working for you.  We have over a hundred billion dollars in active submissions to the IRS.  I have only seen one case where one of our submissions was initially rejected for being perceived as too speculative and we got the IRS to reconsider that position. 

A surprise from the 2016 report was that we represented nearly a quarter of all 7623(b) awards made by the IRS last year.  We are proud to be seeing success for our clients and happy to see the IRS recognizing the important contribution made by whistleblowers.

Today the IRS Whistleblower Office released their Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 2015.  According to the report, which has been substantially made-over in both appearance and content, the total amount of awards paid in fiscal 2015 was $103,486,677 before sequester’s 7.3% reduction.  That number is impressive when compared to fiscal years 2014 and 2013 which were approximately $52 million and $54 million respectively.  Based on that information, the award amount paid out in 2015 is almost double what it was for the year prior.  As should be expected, more award payouts comes with more amounts collected by the IRS.  According to Table 1 of the report the IRS collected over $501 million which was up from 2014’s $309 million collected.  In even more good news for whistleblowers, awards paid as a percentage of amounts collected was 20.6% – the highest it has been in three years with 2014 and 2013 paying out 16.9% and 15.7% respectively.  While 2015 was a welcomed increase in award payouts from prior years, 2016 could be even better. According to Table 2 of the report, there are 176 section 7623(b) claims currently in Preliminary Award Evaluation, a number which is up from the 11 reported in 2014’s annual report. 

The report for 2015 is updated both in presentation and content.  For example, this year’s report contains a “Message from the Director” as an introduction and summary of the year’s results which is a departure from the report’s historically rigid “Executive Summary.”  The Message from the Director piece also includes a picture of Director Lee D. Martin set off beside the article-style recap of notable 2015 numbers, explanation of improvements (including the new style for the annual report), and calls for Congressional action.  Even the cover of the annual report, which typically is just font on a blank page, incorporates a stars and stripes design below the title of the report. 

The report also significantly changed the way data is shown by now reporting data for the preceding three years on a fiscal cycle.  The new data reporting measure will make year to year comparisons easier and more reliable.  Typically, past annual reports included an “Appendices” section that was made up of six or so tables that showed data in a simple chart format.  This year’s report forewent the “Appendices” in favor of tables and figures under the heading of “Fiscal Year 2015 Whistleblower Program Statistical Results.”  Although the data shown in this year’s report overlaps the data provided in past reports, this year’s report simplifies the way data is shown by using bar graphs to depict certain data and consolidating information within certain tables such as the “Status of Open Section 7623(a) & 7623(b) Claims” in this year’s Table 2 as compared to 2014’s Table 4.  Another noteworthy addition to this year’s report is the “Glossary” found at the end of the report which provides definitions of terms and phrases used throughout the report such as “Intake/Classification,” “Final Review,” and “Interim Award Assessment.” 

This year’s report noted that over half of the rejected claims are rejected because the allegations made in the submission are “not specific, credible, or are speculative in nature.”  This ties in with part of the Message from the Director which stated that although the IRS gets thousands of submissions each year, many of them are not actionable because the submission itself is not specific or credible.  This fact highlights the importance of submitting whistleblower submissions to the IRS that are factually detailed and include on point and concise legal analysis that conveys credibility.

crsThe Congressional Research Service (“CRS”) updated a report on tax havens to reflect new revenue-raising estimates for proposals for reducing international tax evasion.  The report, updated last week, noted that estimates of revenue losses from corporate profit shifting are as high as $90 billion per year and may even be higher.  The report also said that corporate profit shifting “appears to have increased substantially in recent years” explaining further that “[e]vasion is often a problem of lack of information, and remedies may include resources for enforcement, along with incentives and sanctions designed to increase information sharing, and possibly a move towards greater withholding.”  In many ways, the IRS starts behind the eight-ball in tax enforcement efforts.  It is no secret that the information asymmetry that exists between the IRS and taxpayers is a major obstacle to collection efforts.  Even though the IRS has broad authority to demand information from taxpayers, they don’t always know what to ask for or where to look for the information they need.  This is precisely where whistleblowers can step in with key information that will level the tax enforcement playing field.  As corporate tax evasion continues to be hot topic politically and internationally, pressure is building on the IRS to collect taxes owed by tax evaders using a reduced budget and scarce resources.  Efficiently reducing the information gap between the IRS and tax evaders may just be a matter of the IRS turning to whistleblowers for enforcement help.