This week I spent two full workdays on the phone with the IRS. I called to resolve issues for two clients with completely different and equally tragic situations. While on hold, a recording offered various easy and convenient online tools I could use in lieu of continuing to wait for a live representative. I appreciate that the IRS participates (however rarely) in newfangled technology like online account options, but some things cannot be resolved without talking to a human. Some situations do not fit neatly into the menu of possible problems The System is prepared to assist with. Just like my client's situations.
Client A had at least part of their identity stolen. Specifically, the part of their identity employers ask for to issue paychecks and send end-of-year tax reporting documents. Like any other employee, Mystery Person worked, got paid, and received a W-2 at the end of the year. Unfortunately for Client A, the W-2 was issued under their social security number and name... not under Mystery Person's name and identifying number.
Client A was a college student with a small amount of wages from a summer job. Much much less than earnings from full-time employment. So when Mystery Person's wages were not reported on Client A's tax return, the IRS sent Client A a letter. Flummoxed, Client A wrote back to the IRS and explained she had no idea what that company was or why they reported wages for her.
Time passed. More letters came. The first one said "we got your letter and need more time to respond." The second one was another copy of the initial notice. The third one asked for documentation that Client A had never worked for the Mystery-Person-W-2-issuing-company. It is profoundly difficult to prove the non-existence of something. But the unreasonableness of the request did not prevent the IRS from making it, so Client A came to me.
My call to the IRS (through the special hotline for tax practitioners) sparked an identity theft investigation that lasted more than a year. In the intervening time, Mystery Person continue to work for the company and W-2s were issued for the next year. So another W-2 for full-time work was filed under Client A's social security number. IRS noticed this W-2 was also not included in Client A's tax return and sent Client A a letter for that year too.
Fortunately for Client A, I understand how the IRS functions and so was able to facilitate the bringing together of several strands of information into a positive conclusion during this week's phone call. The IRS investigation finally concluded that Mystery Person's W-2 did not belong on Client A's tax return. I asked the IRS Representative to kindly apply those long-awaited findings to the subsequent year since it was the same situation. They mercifully obliged. And just like that: the whole issue was finally resolved.
The System was not set up for that particular problem. People within The System needed to hear from a person familiar with The System who was connected to the person having the issue (me). Then those folks inside had to check the right boxes and file the right forms with the right people in the right places to create resolution. And no part of that process was easy, reassuring, or comprehendible to the person on the outside (Client A).
It doesn't have to be this way. But it is. And Client A's experience is unfortunately common. When I worked for IRS I resolved countless "unusual" situations. There was no clear way to fix these "unusual" issues, but they needed to be resolved and somebody had to make sure it got done. So I took up the cause and didn't let those cases go until everything was sorted out.
At the time I thought those cases were anomalies. I thought I just ended up with all the weird ones because I was good at figuring them out. What I have since come to understand is that I was the person standing in between my fellow human beings and the churn of The Great Machine. I spoke the language of The Tax System and so I could translate Human to System. Without me, those people would be doomed to an unending cycle of correspondence, document submission, and box checking.
And that is just the Tax System. The same is true for the legal system, the education system, the economic system. Even things that should be inherently human-focused, like the disaster relief system. The System, whichever one you look at, is not designed to work for people. They are all designed to perpetuate their own existence, aided by the many humans who work in these agencies tending our great machines of bureaucracy.
We need to create better systems. But we can't wait until we have better systems to start doing things differently. We can't wait for better systems to start looking after people. So whenever you can, however you can, in whatever systems you have influence: take care of people. Make your priority people over process and property. The system is made of people and all those people (us people) should be working for the benefit and betterment of all of us people.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.