Friday, November 9, 2012

Commissioner Shulman Retires After Five Years of Service as Commissioner

Mention retiring Commissioner of Internal Revenue Doug Shulman and some Americans abroad see red and misdirect their anger at him over FATCA and the IRS’s new focus on FBAR-only audits and enforcement. Last week he gave his goodbye speech and listed what he considers to be his accomplishments over his five year tenure. Six of seven items listed by him are soft and gooey government "management-speak"- type things like sensitivity to the work force and the techno-challenges the IRS faces, but front and center was surely the single thing Mr. Shulman wants to be remembered for: the IRS muscle flexing in the international enforcement arena.

During Mr. Shulman’s tenure, the financial world witnessed two developments: the almost complete capitulation of the Swiss banking industry to the IRS, and what has been essentially a world-wide muted objection to FATCA itself, and the fact that for the most part, the international financial community is rolling over by spending billions of dollars to make their IT systems compatible with the reporting requirements of FATCA.

For decades, IRS management has been worried about the Service’s ability to do its job efficiently if everyone was permitted to continue to file paper returns. E-filing has helped here but the IRS still has a long way to go. In this regard, the IRS was surely bluffing when FATCA came on the scene and the agency announced that every bank in the world had to become a withholding agent for the U.S. government and enter into a separate FFI Agreement with the IRS National Office by January 2013. It would be hard to imagine Congress authorizing the IRS to hire the number of people necessary to make that happen at all.  And while that date has been pushed back more than a year, the real action with FATCA is in the area of intergovernmental agreements, or IGA's. Just yesterday, the Treasury Department boasted in a press release that it was engaged with 50 separate countries to negotiate a country by country exchange of information agreement under which there would be an automatic exchange of information between the US and each country so that bureaucrats all over the world could find out which of its respective citizens might be playing fast and loose with undisclosed bank accounts and avoiding US taxes on the one hand or foreign taxes in their own respective countries.

What Mr. Shulman is likely most proud of is the fact that under his watch, the international financial community has taken a giant leap forward to establish a virtual international banking data base available to US law enforcement agencies and "FATCA Partner" countries.