The Washington Post

GAO: Unregulated tax preparers putting taxpayers at risk

Should the Internal Revenue Service regulate the tens of millions of uncertified, paid tax preparers who operate in the United States?

The Government Accountability Office said in a report this month that those tax-filing experts, who account for 55 percent of all paid preparers, have put their clients at risk of serious enforcement action with incorrect returns.

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

The congressional watchdog agency reviewed 19 tax preparers through undercover site visits, finding that all but two had incorrectly calculated refund amounts. Among the most common errors: Claiming ineligible children for the Earned Income Tax Credit, not reporting cash tips and not asking the required eligibility questions for a tax credit that helps students cover educational costs in exchange for community service.

The GAO recommended that Congress consider legislation that would allow the IRS to regulate paid tax-filing experts, saying the move “will help promote high-quality services from paid preparers, will improve voluntary compliance, and will foster taxpayer confidence in the fairness of the tax system.”

The IRS tried to impose testing and education requirements for preparers in 2010, but a federal court determined that the agency lacked the statutory authority to carry out its plans. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed that ruling in February.

President Obama’s 2015 budget proposal calls for legislation that would allow the Treasury Department and IRS to regulate all paid tax preparers.

The GAO found that Oregon, one of only four states that regulate tax-filing experts, had a higher level of accuracy than the rest of the nation on returns. The odds of a paid preparer from the Beaver State filing an accurate return were 72 percent higher than in the rest of the country, the report said.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debate Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
What to expect at tonight's debate
Tonight's debate is likely to focus on the concerns of African American and Latino voters. Clinton has focused in recent days on issues like gun control, criminal-sentencing reform, and the issues with drinking water in Flint, Mich. But Sanders has been aggressively moving to appeal to the same voters, combining his core message about economic unfairness with his own calls to reform the criminal-justice system.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as he heads into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
Clinton in New Hampshire: 2008 vs. 2015
Hillary Clinton did about as well in N.H. this year as she did in 2008, percentage-wise. In the state's main counties, Clinton performed on average only about two percentage points worse than she did eight years ago (according to vote totals as of Wednesday morning) -- and in five of the 10 counties, she did as well or better.
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.