The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Once upon a time in America before there was such a thing as “e-filing” and people actually had jobs, we were consigned to self-report our annual financial activity to the IRS using plain old paper.  Those were dark, primitive days indeed.  With only a month to go until the Ides of April, I reflected back on those barbaric days and remembered an experience I had with that tax collection agency.

For once I decided to be proactive. I was not going to wait for the booklet to arrive in the mail. I was going to get the forms I needed to file my income tax return and get it done before midnight on April 14th.  Despite the blustery winter weather I was not going to be deterred.  I was on a mission.

As I prepared to leave the office I realized that I might be able to provide a benefit to my like-minded employees. So I explained that I was headed to the IRS to pick up tax forms and would be happy to get any that my employees needed. Several people spoke up and said that they would appreciate my doing that for them.

When the list was compiled, there were 7 different forms (and Instruction Books) and a total of 37 copies that were required. I headed out on a snowy early March day to the IRS office at 230 S. Dearborn Street in Chicago.

In  the IRS’ lobby there was a large sign that indicated forms were available on the 17th floor. I went to the elevator, my list in my pocket.  Exiting the elevator – another large sign had an arrow directing me to the room where forms were available. I followed the arrow and went into the room.  Much to my surprise and delight, other than the two IRS employees who were behind the counter, I was the only person there.

I went up to the counter and pulled the list from my pocket. I waited patiently as the two employees discussed their dates over the weekend.  I waited politely at the counter – figuring that one of them would eventually deign to assist me.  After five minutes, the female IRS employee came over to the counter and said, “Can I hep you?”

I said, “Yes, please. I would like to get the forms and instruction booklets on this list.” I gave my handwritten list to her.

“Do you has a number?”

“A number?,” I asked.

“Yes. I can’t hep you unless you has a number.”  She pointed to the entrance of the room where by the side of the door I saw a rack of hard plastic numbers hanging on the wall– the kind you used to see in a butcher shop or bakery.

I said, “No, I don’t have a number but I’ll go get one.”

I came back with a number (1) and when I returned to the counter this woman looked at me as though I were new to the room.

“Do you has a number?”

“I do.”

She looked at the electronic display above the plastic cards and called, “Number 1.”  I handed her my number and my list.  She pressed the button under the counter to advance the number to “2”.

As she turned from me she took perhaps three steps and then returned to the counter.

She said, “I can’t fill this order.”

Thinking that the forms had not yet been printed I said, “When do you expect to get the forms in your office?”

She said, “We got the forms. But you only allowed to get five different forms and a total of 25 copies on one day.”

In a perverse way this made sense to me. I could see how it would be inconvenient if a person came in to get a large number of forms – thus holding up everyone else. But since I was the only customer I was willing to have her fill the first 25 items on the list and then wait in line, take another number and wait my turn for the rest.  I explained my plan and asked if that would be okay.

“No. You kin only get a total of 25 copies of the forms per day.”

My usual gentility and patience started to fade dramatically. So I said, “What if you fill the first 25 items on my list. I then go back to my office and ask my 71 year old secretary to walk a mile and a half in the cold and hand you the list to get the remaining forms. Would you give them to her?”

“Yep.”

“Now don’t you think that’s a little silly?,” I asked.

I don’t know if I struck a chord with her over my 71 year old secretary or what exactly motivated this woman, but without answering me, she turned away with my list and about 10 minutes later returned with my complete order.  Plus I got a bonus.  In addition to all the forms that I had requested she provided three additional ones. They were entitled, “FORMS TO REQUEST FORMS.”

I used to be critical of former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s failure to pay his own taxes correctly. I mean, after all, he was the head of the Federal agency that has the IRS within its domain.

But as I thought back on this situation I realized that Sec. Geithner was probably innocent of any fraudulent activity.  The reason he failed to complete his return properly was – HE COULDN’T GET THE FORMS!

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Comments on: "FORM AND SUBSTANCE (MY MORNING AT THE IRS)" (5)

  1. I really do my very best to pay my taxes correctly – filling in every form and dotting every i and crossing every t. But almost every year, I get some notification that I’ve filled out some form wrong (from a past year) and I owe more money. It happened again this year – I had one bill from 2010 and one bill from 2011. I wrote checks for the requested amounts, sent them in, and guess what I got back in the mail a month later. 2 checks, payable to me, in the exact same amounts I had been billed for.
    I just don’t know what to think anymore. I feel like someone’s either joking with me or just really bad at their job. There’s just no telling what will happen with this year’s taxes.

    • There is something inherently wrong with a tax code which requires seventy thousand pages to describe itself. How could any person possibly comprehend all that – especially as it is written in governmentese? Obviously no one can – and that’s why the IRS says that a taxpayer, relying on the advice of its own employees, is not necessarily getting the correct information.

      In 2011 the IRS paid out an (admitted) $3.6 Billion in fraudulent refunds. This included $27 million to one single tax filer in Florida who submitted 5500 tax returns and sent another tax filer in Bulgaria who submitted 700 returns nearly $500,000. They might have done a better job catching these obvious fraudsters – but they were busy sending you and other conscientious taxpayers “notices of deficiency” which they must have considered to be more important.

      Considering the IRS’ record, I think we should change that old saw, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,” to “I’m from the IRS and I’m here to waste your money.” One consolation is that considering the amount of correspondence you have with IRS, you’ll never feel alone. Good luck with this year’s return!

  2. Loved the story! It could be a story of any government department anywhere. lol

  3. I’m sure that story is repeated in the hallowed halls of government around the globe. Makes you want to find a deserted island and live out your life in peace and sanity.

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