Appeals to Begin Offering Web-Based Conferences in Pilot Program

The IRS Office of Appeals announced in News Release IR-2017-122 that will begin a pilot program using web-based conferencing software to offer a virtual conference option for taxpayers and representatives.  This option will be in addition to the current conferencing options.

Currently taxpayers and representatives can meet with an Appeals Officer:

  • In person;
  • By phone; or
  • Through a video conference system located at a limited number of local IRS offices.

Under the new program, taxpayers and representatives will use a yet unspecified web based video conferencing system to interact with the Appeals Officer in a conference.  This will allow a face to face communication between the parties, something not possible via a phone call, without the taxpayer and representative having to travel to an IRS office.

Web based conferencing has become increasingly popular, both for business and personal use.  Various systems exist for conducting such conferences which use a computer with a broadband internet connection, along with a camera and microphone attached to or built into the computer.  Most readers have probably made use of such technologies for various purposes, including obtaining continuing education, having conferences with employees or clients and communicating with family members.

The news release describes the IRS web based conferencing system as follows:

While a phone call works well for most taxpayers, others prefer face-to-face interaction. Appeals’ pilot program will use a secure, web-based screen-sharing platform to connect with taxpayers face-to-face from anywhere they have internet access. Similar to popular screen-sharing programs used on phones and home computers, this technology may also be a way for the IRS to provide greater access, efficiency and flexibility to taxpayers. This web-based model is more convenient and has more features than the existing video-conferencing technology.

The pilot program will start on August 1, 2017.  Appeals will assess the results, including taxpayer satisfaction with the technology.

Until the actual program begins it’s difficult to assess the impact of this program, as the news release does not indicate how the IRS will choose who to offer pilot access to, what the capabilities of the system they plan to use are and what the system requirements will be for the computer system to be used by the taxpayer.

Advisers who have only used web based conferencing at their office to consume continuing programs should be aware that somewhat more bandwidth is necessary to carry on an effective two way conference.  As well, advisers should consider the quality of the cameras and microphone systems they have available, since most likely the adviser and client will share a single computer, camera and microphone for participation in such a conference. 

Given budgetary constraints and the increasing prevalence of the use of this technology in business, advisers likely should consider the need to set up a conferencing environment in their offices that will be appropriate for such uses.  It seems likely that such virtual conferences will become the norm, and not the exception, in a few years—and not just for dealing with IRS Appeals.