IRS chief counsel visits UF Law

Published: April 5th, 2010

Category: Events, News, Students

The Graduate Tax program saved one of their most eminent speakers for their final Enrichment Speaker Series event in which IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins spoke on Friday. “What a beautiful day to be stuck in a classroom,” Wilkins joked, thanking the laughing students for attending.

Wilkins began his presentation with a description of the Office of Chief Counsel, which turns out to be a large department in what is a very large agency. According to Wilkins, the Office of Chief Counsel has 2,564 employees. While that may seem like a lot, it is fairly small when one considers the task that they must perform.

If taxes are inevitable, it is just as inevitable that people and companies will do their best to get around paying them. To enforce the tax code in courts across the country, the Office of Chief Counsel must employ hundreds of attorneys and their support staff. On top of all of this, the Office of Chief Counsel also serves as the chief legal advisor to the IRS commissioner, and also gives tax advice to the Treasury and taxpayers. Like any area of law, the envelope is always being pushed, and Wilkins and his staff must be watchful of trends and address them as needed.

The global movement of money and how it impacts taxes is an important issue that the IRS is currently dealing with. Wilkins said that the IRS is moving toward more international arrangements, and touched on the cooperation between Switzerland and the United States in uncovering the crimes of the Swiss bank UBS. In February 2009, UBS handed over the names of 250 Americans who had been evading taxes by stashing money in offshore UBS accounts. Since then, the IRS and the Swiss government have been working out a deal to deliver the names of thousands of other tax evaders. “And this kind of process will become more routine and more regularized,” Wilkins said.

Not every international case will be of this size, of course, but Wilkins said that these cases are usually not just your average audit. “The typical case is to develop evidence for an investigation, usually a criminal one,” he said.

But the IRS does more these days than simply enforcing tax regulations.

“We’re pretty long past the point where we’re only a tax collector,” Wilkins said.

With many government programs, like the first-time homebuyer credit, being implemented through the IRS, Wilkins described the office as also being a program administrator.

That role is already coming center-stage, as the implementation of the newly passed health care reform law begins. The law imposes new penalties for large employers who don’t provide insurance, grants new benefits to small businesses that do, and a multitude of other provisions. It also includes more traditional taxes, like the 10 percent tax on tanning beds. “That’s going to be an interesting one to apply,” Wilkins told the laughing crowd.