Reflections on the Impact of Nina Olson by Alice Abreu

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We welcome Professor Alice Abreu. Alice teaches tax at Temple Law School. She is a great teacher and winner of many awards at Temple. She has long wanted to engage her students in practical learning about tax which led her to create what I believe was the first tax class at a law school designed to train the students to serve as volunteers for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). Her students fan out across the Philadelphia region to assist low income filers. In class they not only learn practical lessons about how to fill out returns but how to deal with clients and they see the direct impact of tax policy. Keith

Nina Olson is a force of nature. Not only has she changed tax administration in this country but she has created an international movement for taxpayer rights. Her influence on the tax systems of both the United States and other jurisdictions is immeasurable. Her Annual Reports to Congress contain treasure troves of original research that only someone in her position could have conducted, and her Legislative Recommendations have provided Congress with a blueprint for more effective tax administration. I don’t know what Congress expected when it created the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate and the position of the National Taxpayer Advocate, but I’m pretty sure that few who were involved with the passage of the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 imagined the vision, tenacity, dedication, and creativity with which Nina has performed her job for the past 18 years or could have foreseen what Nina has made of the Taxpayer Advocate Service and the position of National Taxpayer Advocate. She leaves behind a strong organization with a cadre of skilled and dedicated employees who will miss their leader mightily, but who have learned from her and are inspired and prepared to carry on her legacy. Kudos to all of the people who had the wisdom to make her appointment happen near the turn of the century. Taxpayers and the tax system are in your debt.

But readers of this blog know everything I’ve just said and have said much of it themselves in this series of tributes. I therefore want to offer an additional frame for Nina’s accomplishments. That frame is legal education. Through her advocacy on behalf of LITCs both before and after she became the NTA Nina transformed tax education in law schools. The increase in the number of LITCs that followed the availability of federal matching dollars not only had a deep impact on the taxpayers who were served by the new LITCs, as many have noted, but also affected the students who have worked in the academic clinics and for whom there are now more potential jobs working in the public interest. It also expanded the coverage of tax curricula; the many definitions of dependent, the EITC, offers in compromise, and the intricacies of tax procedure and administration—subjects rarely covered in any depth in the typical law school introductory tax course—are now well-known to the many students who have to master them in order to represent their clients in LITCs.

Moreover, the growth in academic LITCs likely increased the proportion of students who study tax, because an LITC can attract to the study of tax students who want to help low income individuals but who might have otherwise avoided tax. Even those of us who are not clinicians can point to students whose introduction to the tax system was through their work in an LITC and who almost certainly would not have become tax lawyers otherwise. In helping to expand dramatically the number of LITCs, Nina thereby changed the professional trajectory of many law students’ lives, and for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere, this magnet effect might even help to increase the diversity of the tax bar.

More specifically and personally, Nina affected tax education at Temple and my own professional life in lasting ways. Her support was crucial to my ability to develop a course that has become a popular and important addition to our tax curriculum. Low Income Taxpayer Policy & Practice allows us to leverage VITA to provide students with an experience which differs from the LITC experience but which is similarly valuable. The course combines tax policy with public service and introduces students to the challenges of tax administration through close study of the current Annual Report to Congress. Developing and then teaching that course has been professionally transformative for me. Nina was a guest lecturer in its inaugural year and an inspiration for the nearly 200 students who came to hear her discuss her life’s work later that day. She thus launched what is now an eight-year-long tradition of bringing a current or former high ranking government official to deliver Temple’s Fogel Lecture. Last year, Nina was the keynote speaker at our annual Law Review Symposium, which focused on the U.S. Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a concept and a statutory provision which almost certainly would not exist without her. Our tax curriculum and our students’ education are stronger for her inspiration and participation.

So thank you Nina, for what you’ve done for taxpayers, for tax administration, for law students, and for those of us who have had the great privilege of knowing you and working with you. Here’s looking forward to what the next chapter of your life holds.


  1. Virgil F. Liptak, BA, CFP (retired) says

    For years, I have tried to contact Nina Olson to no avail. Your alleged savior is too busy placating you to be bothered with issues relating to all taxpayers, such as I have set forth. Her agents even refuse to file-stamp my formal filings, which cannot be true public policy anywhere the Public has fundamental rights. The IRS’ “no email communication” is a perfect example of their de facto policy to spoliate and otherwise lend some cover for their secret policy of denial of receipt of their order of time sensitive filings, that you here seem content to allow. A recent blogger here pointed to how a federal circuit judge pointed to the obvious: sending a time sensitive notice to a taxpayer by mail, with 3 (three) different return addresses, is policy to confuse [and thereby deprive taxpayers of real due process].
    When I studied Accounting in College, and later was educated and trained as a CFP, I/We collectively understood our job as helping clients avoid paying extra tax and never paying illegally assessed tax. In trying to comment from time to time, I find myself stifled and muffled by your “blog” as I never see my comments published and therefore, I see no rebuttal to my logic. More logic dictates that either I am right and you are too embarrassed to publish or, you are simply stupid cowards [who can’t think for yourselves or refuse to, out of temerity]. My questions have to do with notorious doctrine [employed frequently by IRS] of “substance over form”. Why will you not employ it AGAINST the IRS, since they are supposed to be employed by and for the People, i.e., they owe US a duty of accuracy in the first instance, not after we run their gamut of Procedural Roadblocks, as if tax is a maze that all people need you to guide us through. Rather, you should be fostering plain, simple and accurate law and procedure that does not require any CPA or JD to comply, by rote. I cite the notorious yearly challenge that Money Magazine used to publish resulting in NO two tax liabilities after the same data was used to produce a tax return by 50 (fifty) different tax “pros”. You should be advocating on just such inconsistency against [not for] Government actors. At bottom, it seems conclusive that without concocted rules of IRS [often disputed by circuit panels showing infirmity per se] y’all would be out of jobs. As for your tax “clinics” for the poor, please explain how the poor are saddled with tax burdens in the first place. I await any of your answers, but do not hold my breath.

    • We are striving for a tax system where we have no tax problems. I believe that is the point of this blog site – to point out problems in tax procedure and foster solutions to those problems.
      If the tax system was fixed to where I was out of a job, I would gladly look for new work. Until that time, this is why I direct a clinic to help the poor:
      1) We help people who are currently low income. They may not have paid their quarterly taxes, their business taxes, or other income taxes in the past when they had money. Now, they get letters from the IRS, may get their Social Security garnished, or be eligible to petition Tax Court. There are unemployed people that still feel the economic impact from the Great Recession and are still dealing with tax debts that have not expired.
      2) Low income people have tax problems that affect everyone. Identity theft and innocent spouse cases are some examples of tax problems that affect poor people. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics provide assistance to people who would not receive that help otherwise.
      3) Tax issues disproportionately impact poor people. Frozen refunds, IRS adjustments, and the loss of an earned income credit might take away the largest piece of annual income (their tax refund) for a low income family. Assistance to the elderly, the disabled, and English as a Second Language low income clients can be a massive win for them and their families.
      4) Poor people need more help with tax bureaucracy than rich people. Rich people can pay for assistance while the poor cannot. Our clinics help low income taxpayers organize their documents and talk to the IRS on their behalf. We are buffers to help these individuals deal with the IRS when they cannot.
      These are real clinics helping impoverished people with real problems.
      A previous comment said we are against pro se taxpayers. I would argue that this blog site provides free tax education. If they are low income, clinics would gladly assist them.
      We are not against the rich or others who can pay for tax assistance. We are taking the knowledge gained by assisting low income taxpayers and sharing it with the public. With that, we advocate for change within the system to improve the tax system for everyone.

      • Norman Diamond says

        “A previous comment said we are against pro se taxpayers.”

        Judges and government employees are.

        A different question is whether LITCs and this blog’s principals are against frivolous taxpayers. Well, I’m against frivolous taxpayers too, if they knowingly and wilfully intended to be frivolous, and if they’re trying to evade paying their fair share.

        Unfortunately there’s a big overlap between those two classes of individuals. Also, once a government employee fabricates an accusation of frivolousness in order to avoid crediting a legitimate taxpayer for overpayments made by the legitimate taxpayer, judges and other government employees all fall into line.

  2. Virgil Liptak, Whistleblower says

    My comment was rhetorical only in the sense that what I eluded to (if I did not say it plainly) is that true Public Policy should not saddle the poor with ANY of the maladies that the reply of Mr. Schmidt points to. In other words, the objectives that IRS recites to Congress about “compliance” is simply ‘Red Herring’ [to those otherwise unlearned in the Securities Industry, that means pro forma pablum that is per se deceptive, otherwise now known as “Trumpian” in both design and application]. What good is filing if the Government can and does file for us [just not correctly nor accurately]?
    Collecting only the correct tax and no more should today be the same policy as long ago dictated by prior Supreme Courts, now packed with beer drinkers and hell raisers, who would never think of overruling an administrative appointee, not unlike themselves [e.g., a tax court judge who is not also a lifetime appointee as they per se deprive us of our 6th and 7th Amendment rights to a jury trial of ALL FACTS].
    In countries with real Public policy, the government owes a duty to file for the taxpayer in a mathematically certain way (i.e., not 50 different results from the same data per my Money Magazine citation that nobody can dispute nor give me any good answer to) such that the taxpayer [who forgets (or justifiably relies on others because they are a widow orphan or beneficiary) or has no resources or otherwise no valid law upon which to rely in filing] will not suffer the official policy of willful blindness. Such IRS practice is de facto policy that is no less than official crime [not just 5th Amendment taking] that is a hallmark of this society where IRS is the new king [with immunity and a presumption of truth] and we are all its unwashed subjects (save for you misguided ministers). You officers of court [who rubber-stamp] are enablers in fact. You save some poor their really ‘UNearned’ income while costing many others many $Millions, on the pretext that they can hire their own counsel. As Christ posed it, you cause heavy burdens but will not lift a finger to help (whistle-blowers like me, who really care and advocate for rank and file who get screwed daily by the “Tax Relief” racket, where assessments are never challenged).
    As for the other comments here and those I have read, you and the IRS code [as policy] treat the Pro Se as if per se frivolous. After hiring lawyers for over 45 years, I have a news flash: Lawyers have no moral compass that they ever bother to follow since they have no ethical Canon that can be enforced to cause them to take on any client who can pay. Whistle-blowers against IRS immediately come to mind. You will not rock your own boat and I reaffirm, that if IRS did not target such actors, and you did not abandon them along with the truth, you would not sing praises to enablers like Nina Olson, like the so-called Christians did in Germany did as train cars of Jews cried in the background.
    At bottom, talk is cheap. Even plumbers [or recently wedding cake bakers] are trained in the law to the extent that they know they cannot discriminate. Lawyers are the only ones who do it with impunity. You are also the only employees who control their boss, to the extent that the boss never knows if you are working, whom the work will really benefit and how many others are being billed for the same time? The ultimate bottom line is that only when lawyers are prohibited from writing our laws, will our laws then become plain, fair and easily enforced for AND against the government.

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