Trump Orders Regulatory Reform Teams as IRS Adapts to Changes

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By Colleen Murphy, Laura Davison and Allyson Versprille

President Donald Trump called for agencies to establish regulatory reform task forces as the IRS and Treasury Department are still sussing out how to handle the president’s regulatory directives.

Trump signed an executive order Feb. 24 requiring federal agencies to appoint a regulatory reform officer and several other top officials to lead regulatory changes within each agency. Task forces must be in place within 60 days, the order said. The order provides the mechanism and the accountability to ensure agencies are conducting regulatory reviews, Linda E. Carlisle, a member at Miller & Chevalier Chartered, told Bloomberg BNA.

Internal Revenue Service and Treasury officials already have a process in place for proactively and retroactively reviewing regulations, said Lisa M. Zarlenga, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP who was Treasury tax legislative counsel under President Barack Obama. The executive order likely “won’t really change what they do,” she said. But by including more policy-level officials in the process, it will increase the level of review of various regulations, Zarlenga said, pointing to the order’s requirement that each agency’s regulatory reform task force include a representative from the central policy office.

“It’s not entirely clear” what the “central policy office” would mean, Zarlenga said, but she assumed it was referring to someone from the Treasury secretary’s office.

Paper Flurry

Trump has signed off on a flurry of executive orders since taking office—some fulfill campaign promises and others crack down on activity across federal agencies. One reason officials are still determining the impact of requirements, including that two regulations be eliminated for each new one issued, is that the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy hasn’t yet been named, Elinor Ramey, an attorney-adviser at Treasury, said Feb. 24 during a Joint TE/GE Council meeting in Baltimore.

The assistant secretary, who will be the top tax adviser to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, traditionally plays a vital role in crafting and implementing federal tax policy. The appointment requires Senate confirmation.

“I will say we are in a transition period,” Ramey said. " We don’t have the people in place yet for signing off on any regulatory guidance that would come out, which is typical in transitions, though I don’t know for how long. It’s only been a month. Right now we’re still working on what it will mean.”

Practitioners have worried that the order could delay work on important regulations and add to confusion across the tax world.

The process of pulling two old regulations to introduce a new one will also siphon off resources from the already understaffed IRS, Carlisle said. There’s “no doubt” there are rules still on the books for statutes that don’t exist, but it will take a lot of time and energy to go through them, she said.

Still Processing

“We are still working through what that means and what it will mean for regulations and guidance across the board. We’re still working through it and figuring out how it will affect us,” Ramey said.

The IRS is also caught up in a Jan. 20 executive order requiring federal agencies to reduce the burden of the Affordable Care Act. Dismantling the law has been a top priority of Republicans in Congress, and a key campaign plank for Trump.

“We are currently reviewing the executive order to determine its implications,” Meghan Biss, a senior technical adviser to the director of Exempt Organizations, said during a panel.

The IRS walked back a previous decision to reject tax returns that didn’t indicate whether an individual had proper insurance coverage after the release of the executive order. The agency had accepted those returns in 2014 and 2015, and had planned to reject them this year.

The annual meeting brings together five regional TE/GE Councils that were formed to maintain communication between practitioners and the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division.

To contact the reporters on this story: Colleen Murphy in Baltimore at cmurphy@bna.com, Laura Davison in Washington at ldavison@bna.com and Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

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