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entitled 'Tax Preparers: Oregon's Regulatory Regime May Lead to 
Improved Federal Tax Return Accuracy and Provides a Possible Model for 
National Regulation' which was released on September 15, 2008.

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Report to the Committee on Finance, U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

August 2008: 

Tax Preparers: 

Oregon's Regulatory Regime May Lead to Improved Federal Tax Return 
Accuracy and Provides a Possible Model for National Regulation: 

GAO-08-781: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-781, a report to the Committee on Finance, U.S. 
Senate. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Millions of taxpayers use paid tax return preparers and many of these 
paid preparers are not subject to any qualification requirements. Paid 
preparers in California and Oregon are exceptions in that these states 
have set paid preparer qualification standards. Additionally, two bills 
before Congress would require national paid preparer regulations. 

To help Congress better understand the potential costs and revenue 
effects of regulating paid preparers, GAO was asked to study (1) how 
IRS, California, Oregon, and other states regulate paid preparers, (2) 
how the accuracy of federal tax returns from California and Oregon 
compare to other returns, and (3) state-level costs and benefits of the 
California and Oregon programs and insights they provide for a possible 
national program. GAO analyzed IRS research data on tax return 
accuracy; interviewed IRS officials, state administrators, and preparer 
community representatives; and reviewed relevant documents. 

What GAO Found: 

No federal registration, education, or testing requirements apply to 
all paid preparers before they can prepare tax returns. California and 
Oregon have requirements that preparers must meet before preparing 
returns in those states. California paid preparers who are not 
attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents (or employed 
by one of these types of tax practitioners) must complete an education 
requirement, obtain a bond, pay a fee, and register. In following 
years, they must complete continuing education requirements, and renew 
their registration. Oregon has similar, but more stringent 
requirements. Oregon has a two-tiered licensing system, with an 
education requirement and examination for Licensed Tax Preparers and 
work experience and a second examination for Licensed Tax Consultants. 
Oregon exempts certified public accountants and their employees, as 
well as attorneys, from these requirements. Oregon requires enrolled 
agents to take a shorter version of the consultant examination. Fifty-
four percent of Oregon applicants passed the stateís basic examination. 
Recently, Maryland enacted legislation to regulate paid preparers and 
at least three other states have similar pending legislation. 

According to GAOís analysis of the Internal Revenue Serviceís (IRS) tax 
year 2001 National Research Program data, Oregon returns were more 
likely to be accurate while California returns were less likely to be 
accurate compared to the rest of the country after controlling for 
other factors likely to affect accuracy. In dollar terms, the average 
Oregon return required approximately $250 less of a change in tax 
liability than the average return in the rest of the country. For 
Oregonís 1.56 million individual tax filers, this equates to over $390 
million more in federal income taxes paid in Oregon than would have 
been paid if the returns were as accurate as similar returns in the 
rest of the country. These results are consistent with, but do not 
prove, that Oregonís regulations lead to some increased tax return 
accuracy. GAOís analysis could not account for all factors that might 
affect the accuracy of these tax returns. Because some states without 
preparer regulation also had tax returns that, on average, were more 
accurate than the national average, some portion of the increased 
accuracy of Oregon returns likely is due to other factors. 

The California and Oregon programsí costs varied with differences in 
the programsí scope. Both programsí administrative costs are funded 
primarily from program fees. Californiaís costs were about $29 per 
preparer and Oregonís about $123. GAO estimates that the total annual 
cost of the ongoing Oregon program, including state costs and the cost 
to preparers for their time and expense in acquiring required 
education, likely is about $6 million. Officials in both states believe 
program benefits like reducing the number of incompetent preparers 
outweigh costs, although neither state had data on benefits. IRS 
officials said that a national programís costs likely would depend on 
the programís objectives and features. 

What GAO Recommends: 

If Congress judges that the Oregon paid preparer regulations account 
for even a modest portion of the higher accuracy of Oregon federal tax 
returns at a reasonable cost, it should consider adopting a similar 
regime nationwide. If Congress enacts paid preparer legislation, it 
should also require IRS to evaluate its effectiveness. IRS provided 
technical comments on a draft of this report which were incorporated. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-781]. For more 
information, contact Michael Brostek at (202) 512-9110 or 
brostekm@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Contents: 

Letter: 

Results in Brief: 

Background: 

IRS, California, and Oregon Differ Significantly in How Each Regulates 
Paid Tax Preparers: 

Oregon's Regulatory Regime May Lead to More Accurate Federal Tax 
Returns: 

Costs and Benefits of the California and Oregon Programs Provide Some 
Guidance for a National Program: 

Conclusions: 

Matter for Congressional Consideration: 

Agency Comments: 

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology: 

Appendix II: Comments from the Internal Revenue Service: 

Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

Tables: 

Table 1: Overview of the California and Oregon Paid Tax Preparer 
Programs: 

Table 2: Comparison of State-Level Paid Preparer Requirements and 
Pending Legislation: 

Table 3: Percentages, Odds, and Odds Ratios for Return Accuracy, before 
and after Controlling for Other Factors: 

Abbreviations: 

CPA: Certified Public Accountant: 

CRTP: CTEC Registered Tax Preparer: 

CTEC: California Tax Education Council: 

EIC: Earned Income Credit: 

FTB: Franchise Tax Board: 

IRS: Internal Revenue Service: 

LTC: Licensed Tax Consultant: 

LTP: Licensed Tax Preparer: 

NRP: National Research Program: 

OBTP: Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners: 

OPR: Office of Professional Responsibility: 

[End of section] 

United States Government Accountability Office:
Washington, DC 20548: 

August 15, 2008: 

The Honorable Max Baucus: 
Chairman: 
The Honorable Charles Grassley: 
Ranking Member: 
Committee on Finance: 
United States Senate: 

Nearly 78 million of the 127 million individual income tax returns 
filed during the 2006 filing season were prepared by paid tax return 
preparers.[Footnote 1] Paid preparers are such an important part of the 
federal tax administration system that the Internal Revenue Service 
(IRS) sometimes refers to them as "partners." However, we testified in 
2006 on the serious errors that paid preparers can make--errors that 
cause taxpayers to underpay their taxes, exposing themselves to IRS 
enforcement action, or that lead taxpayers to not take advantage of 
available credits or deductions and, as a result, they end up paying 
too much.[Footnote 2] Tax return preparers may be self employed or may 
work in a variety of business settings, including large companies, 
franchises, and small businesses. Most paid preparers are not subject 
to any education, testing, or registration requirements. Two states, 
California and Oregon, are exceptions in that for many years they have 
had their own requirements that apply to paid preparers working in 
their states. 

To help Congress better understand the potential costs and revenue 
effects of establishing regulation at a federal level for all paid 
preparers, you asked us to answer the following questions: (1) How do 
IRS, California, Oregon, and other states regulate paid preparers? (2) 
Using available IRS data, how does the accuracy of federal tax returns 
in California and Oregon compare to that of returns in the rest of the 
country, after accounting for other factors that might influence 
accuracy? (3) What are the state-level costs and benefits of the paid 
preparer programs in California and Oregon and what insights do they 
provide for possible benefits if Congress were to enact national paid 
preparer registration or licensing requirements? 

To answer these questions, we reviewed relevant documents from 
California, Oregon, and IRS, including budget and legislative material. 
We interviewed California and Oregon state program administrators and 
paid preparer industry representatives in those states and nationwide. 
We also searched legal databases for examples of newly enacted paid 
preparer laws in other states and pending legislation. We also 
interviewed IRS officials to discuss the implications of using the 
California or Oregon regulatory regimes as possible models for federal- 
level paid preparer legislation. To compare tax return accuracy, we 
analyzed data from the National Research Program (NRP), an IRS study of 
reporting compliance for a random sample of individual tax returns 
filed for tax year 2001.[Footnote 3] In most cases, the returns were 
audited to determine whether income, expenses, and other items were 
reported accurately by the taxpayers. We determined that the data used 
to characterize tax return accuracy differences between California, 
Oregon, and the rest of the country and to describe the costs of the 
two state programs were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this 
report; we determined this after assessing the reliability of NRP data, 
reviewing California and Oregon financial reports, and interviewing 
state program administrators. We conducted this performance audit from 
September 2007 through July 2008 in accordance with generally accepted 
government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and 
perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide 
a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit 
objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 
For a more detailed discussion of our scope and methodology, see 
appendix I. 

Results in Brief: 

Oregon has more requirements for paid tax return preparers than 
California, and both states have more paid tax return preparer 
requirements than the federal government. Only a few federal laws apply 
to all paid preparers and these laws concern tax preparer conduct 
rather than qualification requirements. Only a small portion of paid 
preparers--enrolled agents[Footnote 4]--have any federal registration, 
testing, or fee requirements. California paid preparers who are not 
attorneys, certified public accountants (CPA), enrolled agents (or 
employed by one of these types of tax practitioners) must complete 60 
hours of qualifying education, obtain a surety bond, register with the 
California Tax Education Council (CTEC), and pay a fee to become a CTEC 
Registered Tax Preparer (CRTP), and they must complete 20 hours of 
continuing education and reregister in each subsequent year. Paid 
preparers who fail to register can be fined up to $5,000. Oregon has a 
two-tiered licensing program. Oregon requires prospective paid 
preparers to complete 80 hours of qualifying education, pass a state- 
administered examination, register, and pay a fee to be initially 
certified as a Licensed Tax Preparer (LTP), and they must complete 30 
hours of continuing education and pay a fee to reregister in each 
subsequent year. Oregon also requires that all LTPs work under the 
supervision of a Licensed Tax Consultant (LTC), CPA, or attorney. To 
become an LTC, a preparer must meet specific work experience 
requirements and pass a second, more advanced examination. Oregon can 
impose fines of up to $5,000 per return for unlicensed tax return 
preparation and for certain conduct on the part of LTPs and LTCs. The 
Oregon tests are notable in that they have low passing rates--54 
percent for the LTP examination and 30 percent for the LTC examination. 
In May 2008, Maryland enacted legislation to regulate paid preparers 
and at least three other states have pending legislation to regulate 
paid preparers. 

When controlling for other factors likely to affect tax return 
accuracy, our analysis of IRS data showed that tax year 2001 federal 
tax returns filed in Oregon were more likely to be accurate than 
returns in the rest of the country, which is consistent with but not 
sufficient to prove that Oregon's regulatory regime leads to some 
increased tax return accuracy. On average, returns filed in California 
were less likely to be accurate than returns filed in the rest of the 
country.[Footnote 5] This indicates that California's paid preparer 
regulatory regime may not improve the likelihood that returns are 
accurate, relative to the rest of the country. Including both self- 
prepared and paid prepared returns, Oregon's 2001 federal returns were 
on average about $250 dollars more accurate than returns in the rest of 
the country. With about 1.56 million individual tax filers in Oregon in 
2001, this translates into over $390 million more in income taxes paid 
in Oregon than would have been paid if Oregon returns were prepared at 
the level of accuracy seen on similar returns in the rest of the 
country. While some portion of this difference might be due to preparer 
regulations, we cannot rule out that other factors may influence 
accuracy, such as whether Oregon paid preparers were more likely to be 
attorneys or accountants than were paid preparers elsewhere in the 
country. Also, we cannot compare the before and after effects of either 
state's regulatory regime. Furthermore, some states without paid 
preparer regulation also had tax returns that, on average, were more 
accurate than the national average. Consequently, we cannot rule out 
the possibility that Oregon or California returns were no more or less 
likely to be accurate than they would have been without regulation of 
paid preparers. 

The costs and benefits of the California and Oregon programs vary in 
terms of scope and point to factors that would have implications for 
any proposed national paid preparer regulatory program. In both 
programs, direct administration costs are funded principally through 
fees with no direct cost to the states. California's program is focused 
on ensuring that paid preparers have received required education and 
its cost is relatively low, with direct costs of about $29 per CRTP per 
year, according to our analysis of the CTEC budget. Oregon's per paid 
preparer costs are higher than California's--about $123 per LTC and per 
LTP, according to our analysis of the Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners 
(OBTP) budget. Oregon's higher cost per preparer is partly because the 
Oregon program includes testing and also because Oregon's costs are 
spread among far fewer paid preparers than California's. Nevertheless, 
we conservatively estimate that the total cost of the Oregon program-- 
including both fees paid to the state and the time and expense that 
preparers incur to comply with Oregon's education requirements--was 
about $6 million in 2007. If only a small portion of the increased 
revenue that we found in Oregon is attributable to the Oregon 
regulatory regime, the regime would compare favorably to IRS's overall 
efforts to increase reporting accuracy. Program administrators and 
preparer community representatives we spoke to in both states said they 
believe that the programs are beneficial because they reduce the number 
of incompetent paid preparers, professionalize the industry, and have 
benefits that outweigh the costs, although neither state has conducted 
research into this latter question. Costs and benefits of paid preparer 
regulation at the federal level would similarly be driven by program 
features--the more a program would be expected to accomplish, the more 
it would likely cost to design, implement, and administer. 

If Congress judges that the Oregon paid preparer regulatory regime is 
likely to account for at least a modest portion of the higher accuracy 
of Oregon federal tax returns and could be implemented nationwide at a 
favorable cost compared to the potential benefits of improved accuracy, 
it should consider adopting a similar regime nationwide. In light of 
the uncertainty about the extent to which Oregon's regime improves tax 
return accuracy, if Congress enacts national paid preparer legislation, 
it should also require IRS to evaluate its effectiveness. 

We provided the Commissioner of Internal Revenue with a draft of this 
report for review and comment and IRS provided technical comments which 
we incorporated. The Commissioner's letter is reprinted in appendix II. 

Background: 

A paid tax return preparer is anyone who is paid to prepare, assist in 
preparing, or review a taxpayer's tax return.[Footnote 6] In this 
report, we refer to two categories of paid preparers--tax practitioners 
and unenrolled preparers. CPAs, attorneys, and enrolled agents are tax 
practitioners. Tax practitioners can practice before IRS; practicing 
before IRS includes the right to represent a taxpayer before the IRS, 
to prepare and file documents with IRS for the taxpayer, and to 
correspond and communicate with IRS. Individuals can become enrolled 
agents by passing a 3-part examination; IRS waives the examination 
requirement for people with specific prior work experience at IRS. 
Department of the Treasury Circular 230, Regulations Governing the 
Practice of Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, 
Enrolled Actuaries, and Appraisers before the Internal Revenue Service, 
applies to tax practitioners and governs their duties, restrictions, 
sanctions, and disciplinary proceedings. IRS's Office of Professional 
Responsibility (OPR) has responsibility for administering and enforcing 
Treasury Circular 230. We use the term unenrolled preparer to describe 
the remainder of the paid preparer population. In most states, anyone 
can be an unenrolled preparer regardless of education, experience, or 
other standards.[Footnote 7] 

Paid preparers are a critical part of the nation's tax administration 
system because of the wide variety of services they offer and their 
unique relationship with taxpayers. Paid preparers may combine several 
taxpayer services, including help understanding tax obligations, 
answering tax law questions, and providing tax forms and publications, 
return preparation, and electronic filing. IRS regards tax 
professionals as a critical link between taxpayers and the government. 
For example, IRS has a section of its Web site dedicated to providing 
information directly to tax professionals. IRS also sponsors the 
Nationwide Tax Forums, annual conferences in several cities every year 
to provide tax education to paid preparers. The Web site of the 
National Association of Tax Professionals also points out the shared 
responsibility of paid preparers to represent their clients while 
respecting the law, listing among its professional standards one that 
says "Should the client insist upon [an] item being stated on the 
return incorrectly, the member should withdraw and refuse to prepare 
the return." 

The number of active paid preparers is unknown. In 1999, IRS estimated 
there were up to 1.2 million paid preparers, but IRS officials 
acknowledge that the actual number could be significantly higher or 
lower. The total number of active paid preparers is unknown because 
only a small portion of all paid preparers--enrolled agents--are 
licensed directly by IRS to practice before the IRS. As of June 2008, 
about 43,000 tax preparers were actively enrolled to practice before 
the IRS.[Footnote 8] IRS officials said that the number of new enrolled 
agent applications and the number of people taking the examination have 
declined in recent years. They noted that these declines followed 
increases in enrolled agent application and examination fees.[Footnote 
9] Similarly, the number of attorneys and accountants who make tax 
return preparation a part of their practice is unknown. 

Millions of tax returns prepared by paid preparers have serious 
compliance problems, which often leave taxpayers owing or overpaying by 
hundreds or thousands of dollars. As we have previously reported, 
[Footnote 10] IRS's tax year 2001 NRP data indicate that tax returns 
prepared by paid preparers had a higher error rate--56 percent-
-than returns prepared by taxpayers--47 percent.[Footnote 11] In 2002, 
we estimated that on as many as 2.2 million tax returns, taxpayers 
claimed the standard deduction when their potential itemized deductions 
were greater, and that about half of these taxpayers had returns 
prepared by another person.[Footnote 12] In 2005, we reported that many 
tax returns included claims for one of three available postsecondary 
education tax preferences that resulted in higher overall tax liability 
than if one of the other preferences had been taken, and that over half 
of these returns were prepared by paid preparers.[Footnote 13] However, 
the fact that errors were made on a return done by a paid preparer does 
not necessarily mean the errors were the preparer's fault; the taxpayer 
may be to blame. The preparer must depend on the information provided 
by the taxpayer. 

On the other hand, some mistakes are clearly the fault of the preparer. 
In 2006 we reported on the results of an investigation where we 
identified mistakes in 19 out of 19 visits to paid preparers working in 
preparer chain offices. Some of the mistakes were significant, either 
exposing the taxpayers to serious IRS enforcement action or costing 
taxpayers over $1,500 in overpaid taxes.[Footnote 14] In 2007, the 
Department of Justice took action against corporations operating 
franchises of a major tax preparation chain. The government complaints 
alleged that the franchisee corporations created and fostered a 
business environment "in which fraudulent tax return preparation is 
encouraged and flourishes."[Footnote 15] The corporations that owned 
the franchises agreed to sell the franchises to new owners and to be 
permanently barred from preparing federal income tax returns.[Footnote 
16] 

When mistakes or deliberate noncompliance by paid preparers result in 
taxpayers underreporting their tax liabilities, it adds to the tax gap. 
The net tax gap is an estimate of the difference between the taxes 
owed--including individual income, corporate income, employment, 
estate, and excise taxes--and what was eventually paid for a specific 
year. IRS most recently estimated the net tax gap to be $290 billion in 
2001. 

In March 2008, we recommended that IRS develop a plan to require a 
single identification number for paid preparers, including assessing 
the feasibility of options, their benefits and costs, as well as their 
usefulness for enforcement and research, on paid preparer behavior. 
[Footnote 17] Also, as of July 2008 there were similar bills pending 
before Congress calling for national paid preparer regulation. Senate 
Bill 1219 and House of Representatives Bill 5716 would require members 
of the current community of unenrolled paid preparers to pass an 
initial qualifying examination and meet continuing annual education 
requirements. Support for legislation such as this can be found in the 
National Taxpayer Advocate's 2002 and 2003 Annual Reports to Congress, 
which recommended Congress create a designation called a "Federal Tax 
Return Preparer," defined as someone other than an attorney, CPA, or 
enrolled agent, who prepares more than five federal tax returns in a 
calendar year and satisfies registration, examination, and 
certification requirements.[Footnote 18] 

IRS, California, and Oregon Differ Significantly in How Each Regulates 
Paid Tax Preparers: 

Only a few Internal Revenue Code provisions apply to all paid preparers 
and only a small portion of paid preparers--enrolled agents--have any 
federal registration, testing, or fee requirements. All paid preparers 
are subject to a few Code provisions and may be penalized if they fail 
to follow them. For example, the Internal Revenue Code imposes monetary 
penalties on paid preparers who (1) understate a taxpayer's liability 
due to a position that fails to meet the applicable legal standard, (2) 
fail to provide a copy of the return to the taxpayer, or (3) fail to 
identify themselves on the returns they prepare. Additionally, for 
returns that include the Earned Income Credit (EIC), paid preparers 
must ask specific questions to determine a taxpayer's eligibility for 
the credit. Also, all paid preparers who choose to file electronically 
are subject to IRS Electronic Return Originator rules. 

Both California and Oregon began to regulate paid preparers in the 
1970s. California's program was first administered by the state's 
Department of Consumer Affairs, and legislation transferred oversight 
responsibility to CTEC in 1997. Oregon's program was established by the 
1973 Oregon Legislative Assembly after representatives of the state's 
paid preparer community recommended that the legislature regulate the 
profession. According to a preparer involved at the time, the Oregon 
Legislative Assembly was responding to a report that there were many 
dishonest or incompetent paid preparers working in the state. 

The main features of California's paid preparer program are qualifying 
and continuing education and registration. To become a CRTP, 
individuals initially register with CTEC by completing a 60-hour 
qualifying education course, purchasing a $5,000 surety bond, 
completing an application, and paying a $25 registration fee. CTEC may 
waive some of the qualifying education requirements for individuals 
with 2 recent years experience in the preparation of personal income 
tax returns.[Footnote 19] In each subsequent year, CRTPs must complete 
20 hours of continuing education, ensure their bond remains in full 
force, submit a renewal application, and pay a $25 renewal fee. As of 
June 6, 2008, 41,755 paid preparers were registered with CTEC. CPAs, 
attorneys, enrolled agents, and employees of any of these types of tax 
practitioners are exempt and not required to register.[Footnote 20] 

California does not require prospective CRTPs to pass a criminal 
background check or to report past criminal convictions or current 
legal issues. This means that prior questionable or illegal conduct is 
not known to program administrators. Moreover, CTEC does not have the 
authority to deny a preparer's registration application based on known 
illegal conduct, nor does the California Code include provisions for 
refusing to renew a CRTP's registration as long as the CRTP meets the 
continuing education requirement and pays the annual registration fee. 

The 60-hour qualifying education requirement is intended to ensure paid 
preparers have a basic knowledge of federal and California tax laws. 
According to the CTEC policy manual, the intent of the annual 
continuing education requirement is to enhance the paid preparer's 
skill in tax matters above the basic knowledge they have already 
acquired. CTEC approves an education provider's curriculum based on an 
independent review of one of the prospective provider's courses at 
least once every 3 years. 

People who are not one of the types of exempt tax practitioners who 
prepare tax returns in California without becoming CRTPs can be fined. 
Under a Memorandum of Understanding between CTEC and the California 
Franchise Tax Board (FTB),[Footnote 21] the FTB is reimbursed by CTEC 
for providing staff to identify unregistered tax preparers. In 2007, 
FTB provided one full-time and one part-time employee and CTEC 
reimbursed FTB $270,000. Persons suspected of illegally preparing tax 
returns are first issued penalty letters and encouraged to become 
registered. If they do not register within 90 days, the FTB can levy 
fines of up to $5,000. An FTB official said that between July 1, 2005, 
and June 30, 2006, FTB identified 77 individuals as unregistered. 
[Footnote 22] Many of these persons were identified by the 2 FTB staff 
members who visited the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas--where 
there are large numbers of paid preparer offices--met with paid 
preparers, and asked to see evidence of registration. Noncompliant paid 
preparers have also been identified through complaints sent to CTEC and 
passed along to FTB. 

Oregon requires paid preparers who are not already licensed by the 
state as CPAs or attorneys, or working for a CPA, to obtain a state 
license to prepare tax returns.[Footnote 23] Enrolled agents-- 
practitioners licensed by Treasury--must also obtain an Oregon license, 
but they are subject to fewer qualifying requirements than other 
individuals who are seeking an LTC license. The state board that 
administers the program--the Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners--issues 
two levels of paid preparer licenses: the Licensed Tax Preparer (LTP) 
license and the Licensed Tax Consultant (LTC) license.[Footnote 24] To 
become an LTP, a person must have a high school diploma or the 
equivalent, complete 80 hours of approved qualifying education, pass a 
state-administered examination with a score of 75 percent or better, 
and pay an $80 registration fee. To continue as an LTP in following 
years, individuals must annually renew their license by completing 30 
hours of approved continuing education and paying an $80 renewal fee. 
An LTP in Oregon may only prepare tax returns for Oregon residents 
under the supervision of an LTC, CPA, or attorney.[Footnote 25] A 
person can become an LTC after working as a tax preparer for a minimum 
of 780 hours during 2 of the prior 5 years, completing a minimum of 15 
hours of continuing education within 1 year of submitting an 
application, and passing a more advanced examination with a score of 75 
percent or better.[Footnote 26] 

LTPs and LTCs must disclose on their initial license and license 
renewal applications if they have been convicted of a crime or are 
under indictment for criminal offenses involving dishonesty, fraud, or 
deception. According to the Oregon statute, OBTP can consider the 
circumstances in particular cases and still approve an application when 
the applicant has disclosed a legal issue. 

Many applicants do not pass the LTP or LTC examinations. For instance, 
from March 1, 2006, to February 28, 2007, 54 percent of test takers 
passed the LTP examination and 30 percent passed the LTC examination. 
[Footnote 27] The OBTP updates both examinations yearly. The 
examinations cover specific Oregon and federal personal income tax laws 
as well as tax theory and practice. The LTC examination also includes 
questions on corporation and partnership income as they relate to 
personal income tax returns. The examination questions pertain to 
approximately 75 percent federal and 25 percent state law. IRS enrolled 
agents in Oregon who wish to become LTCs must pass a shorter version of 
the LTC examination that is limited to Oregon state laws. The intent of 
Oregon's education and examination requirement is to ensure paid 
preparers comprehend the state and federal tax codes. OBTP reports that 
in March 2008, 3,993 paid preparers held one of these two licenses-- 
1,916 LTPs and 2,077 LTCs. 

The Oregon statute includes fines for preparing tax returns without a 
license. Each return prepared can generate a separate fine, so the 
total penalty for working as an unlicensed preparer can be very large. 
OBTP also has the authority to assess civil penalties of up to $5,000, 
or suspend or revoke the license of LTCs and LTPs who engage in 
fraudulent or illegal conduct, or who violate other provisions of the 
Oregon statutes or OBTP rules. Additionally, the board may order 
restitution to consumers harmed by tax preparation fraud. From March 
2001 to November 2007, OBTP took disciplinary action 48 times, with 
fines totaling about $2 million. The largest fine for one individual 
was in April 2002 for $805,700. Only a fraction of fines are eventually 
collected however--while about $867,000 in fines were levied from July 
2005 through June 2007, about $69,000 in fines and $6,000 in interest 
was collected during the same period. Persons penalized by the OBTP can 
appeal these decisions and OBTP has an arrangement with the Oregon 
Office of Administrative Hearings to provide an administrative law 
judge to hear these cases. Individuals can also appeal their cases to 
the Oregon Court of Appeals. 

Both California and Oregon use their registered or licensed paid 
preparer lists to contact preparers to remind them about requirements 
and to inform them about changes to the tax code or other matters they 
should know about. However, neither state uses their preparer 
information to track paid preparer accuracy or for enforcement 
purposes. California does not require CRTPs to include their CTEC 
registration number on either the state or federal tax returns that 
they prepare. Oregon requires LTCs and LTPs to include their license 
number on both types of returns, but officials told us that this 
requirement is not consistently followed as some licensees incorrectly 
put down their Preparer Tax Identification Number, Social Security 
Number, or an employer's Employer Identification Number. Consequently, 
neither state has a reliable means to track or analyze returns prepared 
by registered or licensed paid preparers in their states. Table 1 
illustrates some of the highlights of the California and Oregon 
regulatory programs. 

Table 1: Overview of the California and Oregon Paid Tax Preparer 
Programs: 

Requirement: Experience; 
California: May consider work experience in lieu of education; 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Preparer (LTP): None; 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Consultant (LTC): Prior experience as an LTP or 
submit petition form of all past tax preparation experience. 

Requirement: Education; 
California: Complete a 60-hour qualifying education course; 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Preparer (LTP): (1) Hold a high school diploma or 
pass equivalency exam; (2) Complete 80 hours of qualifying education; 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Consultant (LTC): Oregon: If currently an LTP, 
complete at least 15 hours of continuing education. Otherwise, complete 
80 hours of education on income tax law. 

Requirement: Examination; 
California: None; 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Preparer (LTP): Pass exam with a score of at least 
75 percent; 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Consultant (LTC): Pass exam with a score of at 
least 75 percent; Enrolled agents take only the sections of the LTC 
examination focused on Oregon laws. 

Requirement: Exempted individuals; 
California: CPAs, attorneys, enrolled agents, and anyone employed by 
them. Trust company and financial institution employees functioning 
within the scope of their employment; 
Oregon: CPAs, public accountants, and their employees; attorneys; 
employees of businesses who prepare only their businesses' tax returns; 
fiduciaries and their employees while acting on behalf of estates; and 
employees of governmental agencies while performing official duties. 

Requirement: Is criminal background relevant to registration or 
licensing? 
California: No; 
Oregon: Yes. OBTP makes case-by-case decisions. 

Requirement: Other; 
California: Purchase a $5,000 surety bond; 
Oregon: Must be 18 years old. 

Requirement: Fees; 
California: $25 (initial registration and annual renewal); 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Preparer (LTP): $80 (Initial issuance or renewal); 
Oregon: Licensed Tax Consultant (LTC): $95 (initial issuance and 
renewal), $65 (if currently an LTP). 

Requirement: Renewal; 
California: Annual. Complete 20 hours of continuing education and 
ensure bond remains in force; 
Oregon: Annual. Complete 30 hours of continuing education. 

Requirement: Penalties for failing to register; 
California: Unregistered individuals may be fined $2,500, but fine may 
be waived if they register within 90 days. If they fail to comply, the 
fine may be increased to $5,000; 
Oregon: Civil penalties range from $50 to $5,000 per violation. 

Sources: California and Oregon paid preparer regulatory programs. 

[End of table] 

In May 2008, Maryland also enacted paid preparer legislation that will 
require tax preparers to pass an examination, pay a registration fee, 
and subsequently comply with continuing education requirements. Also, 
New York, Oklahoma, and Arkansas all have legislation pending that 
would create tax preparer programs. All three pending bills create an 
oversight regime, which would include tax preparer registration and 
education requirements, both initial and continuing.[Footnote 28] 

The Oklahoma and Arkansas bills require that preparers pass an 
examination to register. Arkansas's pending legislation closely models 
the Oregon regime, with requirements for both preparers and 
consultants. New York's pending legislation is similar to California's 
paid preparer program, requiring preparers to maintain surety bonds but 
having no provision for preparer testing. The enacted Maryland program 
and the pending legislation in New York and Oklahoma exempt CPAs, 
attorneys and their employees, and enrolled agents from the 
requirements. The Arkansas bill would exempt CPAs and attorneys and 
their employees, and would require enrolled agents to pass a test only 
on Arkansas tax law issues.[Footnote 29] Table 2 provides an overview 
comparison of the California and Oregon requirements with the Maryland 
requirements and the pending legislation in the other states. 

Table 2: Comparison of State-Level Paid Preparer Requirements and 
Pending Legislation: 

Registration: 
California: Yes; 
Oregon: Yes; 
Maryland: Yes; 
Arkansas (pending legislation): Yes; 
New York (pending legislation): Yes; 
Yes; Oklahoma (pending legislation): Yes. 

Qualifying education: 
California: Yes; 
Oregon: Yes; 
Maryland: No; 
Arkansas (pending legislation): Yes; 
New York (pending legislation): Yes; 
Oklahoma (pending legislation): Yes. 

Testing: 
California: No; 
Oregon: Yes; 
Maryland: Yes; 
Arkansas (pending legislation): Yes; 
New York (pending legislation): No; 
Oklahoma (pending legislation): Yes. 

Continuing education: 
California: Yes; 
Oregon: Yes; 
Maryland: Yes; 
Arkansas (pending legislation): Yes; 
New York (pending legislation): Yes; 
Oklahoma (pending legislation): Yes. 

Sources: GAO review of state laws and pending legislation. 

[End of table] 

IRS officials noted that continued growth in the number of different 
paid preparer registration or licensing regimes in different states 
could become a problem if the requirements differ from state to state. 
The officials described this as primarily a problem for the tax 
preparation industry in that a variety of regulatory regimes across 
many different states could make it complicated, for example, for paid 
preparers to move their practice from one state to another or for a tax 
preparation chain to move employees or expand their operations. 

Oregon's Regulatory Regime May Lead to More Accurate Federal Tax 
Returns: 

When controlling for other factors likely to affect tax return 
accuracy, our analysis of IRS data showed that tax year 2001 federal 
tax returns filed in Oregon were more likely to be accurate than 
returns in the rest of the country, which is consistent with but not 
sufficient to prove that Oregon's regulatory regime improves tax return 
accuracy. Relative to the rest of the country, Oregon paid preparer 
returns had a greater likelihood of being accurate and California paid 
preparer returns were less likely to be accurate. Specifically, we 
found that the odds that a return filed by an Oregon paid preparer was 
accurate were about 72 percent higher than the odds for a comparable 
return filed by a paid preparer in the rest of the country. Conversely, 
the odds that a paid preparer return in California was accurate were 
about 22 percent lower than for paid preparer returns in the rest of 
the country.[Footnote 30] This indicates that California's paid 
preparer regulatory regime may not improve the likelihood that returns 
are accurate, relative to the rest of the country. Our analysis 
controlled for factors such as the complexity of tax returns in 
comparing California and Oregon to the rest of the country. However, 
our analysis cannot rule out the possibility that factors for which we 
could not control affected the accuracy of tax returns in either state. 

To determine the relative likelihood that Oregon and California returns 
were accurate, we used multivariate logistic regression to compare the 
odds of return accuracy in these states compared to odds in the rest of 
the country, controlling for other characteristics that might influence 
return accuracy.[Footnote 31] To make these accuracy comparisons, we 
used data from IRS's NRP, which assessed the accuracy of individual tax 
returns from tax year 2001. We defined a return as accurate if it 
required less than $100 absolute value in changes.[Footnote 32] 

As an illustration of the differences among paid preparer returns in 
California and Oregon, we computed the probability of accuracy for a 
medium complexity, form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, for a 
taxpayer with income over $100,000. While a return with these 
characteristics prepared by a paid preparer in Oregon would have a 74 
percent probability of being accurate, a similar return prepared by a 
paid preparer in California would have a 55 percent probability of 
being accurate. 

In addition to having a higher likelihood of accuracy than the rest of 
the country, on the average Oregon 2001 federal tax return--regardless 
of whether it was self prepared or from a paid preparer--auditors 
identified a smaller increase in taxes owed.[Footnote 33] In Oregon, 
the average return required approximately $250 less of a change in tax 
liability than the average return in the rest of the country. Our $250 
estimate is conservative in that it does not incorporate the limited 
number of cases with relatively large liability changes. With about 
1.56 million individual tax filers in Oregon in 2001, this translates 
into over $390 million more in income taxes paid in Oregon than would 
have been paid if Oregon returns were prepared at the level of accuracy 
seen on similar returns in the rest of the country. The average tax 
liability change in California was higher than the average in the rest 
of the country by approximately $90. 

Although the differences we observed in the states' regulatory programs 
and in how likely California and Oregon returns were to be accurate 
compared to the rest of the country are consistent with the Oregon 
regime leading to some improved federal tax return accuracy, the 
analysis cannot rule out that the regime did not have such an effect. 
We could not control for other factors that may influence accuracy, 
such as whether Oregon paid preparers were more likely to be attorneys 
or CPAs than preparers elsewhere in the country. Also, data are not 
available on return accuracy prior to the existence of each state's 
program, so we cannot compare the before and after effects of the 
regimes. Before and after data might have shown, for instance, whether 
the California regime leads to improved tax return accuracy compared to 
what it otherwise would have been even though California's returns in 
2001 were less accurate, on average, than returns in the rest of the 
country. Also, we considered the accuracy of tax returns in other 
states and found that some states without paid preparer laws had more 
accurate tax returns than the national average, after controlling for 
the factors in our model.[Footnote 34] This indicates that regulation 
over paid preparers alone does not explain the differences that we 
found. Further, to the extent that the Oregon regime does improve tax 
return accuracy, our methodology does not identify whether any part of 
the regime is most important to that result. Our methodology only takes 
into account the entire regimes as implemented in Oregon and 
California. 

Costs and Benefits of the California and Oregon Programs Provide Some 
Guidance for a National Program: 

Both California and Oregon support their programs almost entirely 
through fees, with state program costs averaging about $29 and $123 per 
year, respectively, per registered paid preparer. In addition to the 
fees charged to paid preparers, the preparers or their employers bear 
other costs, such as those associated with taking courses on tax law 
and return preparation. Program administrators and preparer community 
representatives in both states said that there are intangible benefits 
from their regulatory regimes, although there are no studies 
quantifying outcomes in either place. The California and Oregon paid 
preparer registration programs include differing design features, such 
as on testing applicants and how much enforcement is deemed desirable, 
that show, not surprisingly, that more extensive programs cost more. 

California's Less Extensive Program Costs Less Than Oregon's: 

California's paid preparer program is more limited in scope than 
Oregon's, and has lower direct administration costs per registered 
preparer. Because neither state provides funding for the programs above 
the fees collected, the entire cost of both programs are borne directly 
or indirectly by the regulated paid preparer communities. 

As noted previously, California's program primarily requires unenrolled 
preparers to register with the state and meet minimum education 
requirements. The total direct budgeted cost of the California program 
was about $1.2 million in fiscal year 2007, with most of the funding 
coming from the $25 registration fees that CRTPs must pay, with 
additional funds coming from late registration fees and other income 
such as fees paid by education providers that apply to be approved as 
CTEC education providers.[Footnote 35] CTEC's total budget in 2007 was 
$1.2 million and CTEC reported 41,755 CRTPs in June 2008, so the cost 
per CRTP was about $29. According to CTEC officials, no funds from 
state tax revenues are used to pay for administering or enforcing 
California's paid preparer laws. 

Like California, Oregon also registers preparers and seeks to ensure 
that paid preparers meet minimum education requirements, but it also 
tests prospective LTPs and LTCs, adding to the administration cost of 
the Oregon program. In 2008, prospective LTPs pay $50 and prospective 
LTCs pay $85 to take the examinations. Also as of 2008, LTPs pay $80 
and LTCs pay $95 to obtain their initial license and in each subsequent 
year to renew their license. The registration fee for a new LTC who had 
been an LTP is $65. OBTP also collects fines and penalties from both 
unlicensed tax return preparers and licensed paid preparers who violate 
Oregon laws--averaging about $38,000 per year in the 2005 through 2007 
period. OBTP's administrative expenses amounted to about $490,000 in 
2007--divided by the 3,993 LTCs and LTPs OBTP reported in March 2008, 
this is about $123 per licensee.[Footnote 36] According to OBTP 
officials, OBTPs operating funds come from the fees and fines described 
above and none come from the state's general revenues. 

Administrative functions of CTEC and OBTP include communicating with 
paid preparers and the public at large about their regulations, 
informing the paid preparer community about tax law and processing 
changes, evaluating education providers, recordkeeping related to 
registration and licensing, maintaining a Web site that taxpayers can 
use to find a paid preparer or check that a particular paid preparer is 
properly registered or licensed, and working with the state legislature 
and the rest of the state government. Some of the difference in the 
administrative cost per registered or licensed preparer between the two 
states may be attributed to economies of scale in the registration of 
paid preparers that California has relative to Oregon. While 
California's direct operating budget is about twice the size of 
Oregon's, the number of preparers that it registers is more than 10 
times greater. 

Enforcement-related expenses take up a share of the CTEC and OBTP 
budgets. In California, CTEC paid the FTB $270,000 in fiscal year 2007 
to conduct enforcement targeted at identifying unregistered preparers 
and either bringing them into compliance or fining them. CTEC is not 
involved in imposing fines on unregistered preparers and has no means 
of taking enforcement action against a CRTP for misconduct, and it has 
never incurred litigation expenses associated with someone appealing a 
CTEC decision. In Oregon, the OBTP has a full-time investigator on its 
staff and directly imposes fines on both licensed and unlicensed paid 
preparers for misconduct. As discussed previously, these fines can be 
appealed, so OBTP arranges with the Oregon Office of Administrative 
Hearings for an administrative law judge to hear cases, and reimburses 
the Oregon Attorney General's Office for counsel to handle legal 
aspects of disputed cases. In 2007, OBTP expenses for its investigator 
and costs related to litigation were about $93,000.[Footnote 37] 

The regulatory programs in the two states impose additional costs 
beyond the direct administration expenses found in the CTEC and OBTP 
budgets. In both states, prospective paid preparers must meet 
qualifying education requirements and the financial and time costs of 
obtaining this education are directly borne by either the individual or 
his or her employer. We contacted frequently used education providers 
in both states and found costs were typically in the $200 to $300 
range, although one was $614. According to paid preparers we spoke to, 
the cost of obtaining continuing education was sometimes fairly low, 
especially when continuing education was obtained through participation 
in professional associations. In some associations, monthly meetings 
usually include a presentation that qualifies for continuing education 
credit. Other preparers, however, may choose to travel to conferences 
or training sessions, such as an IRS Nationwide Tax Forum, to obtain 
their continuing education over just a few days. The registration fee 
for the IRS forums is fairly low--$179 for early registration in 2008. 
Out-of-town travel, when necessary, adds to the cost of obtaining 
required continuing education. Continuing education can also be 
obtained from state-approved education providers in both classroom 
settings and over the Internet. 

Because results for the Oregon regime are consistent with some positive 
effect on federal tax return accuracy, the cost of that regime is of 
particular interest. We conservatively estimated the total costs 
associated with Oregon's regulation to be about $6 million in 2007. 
This estimate includes the regime's direct administrative costs as well 
as an estimate of the cost of licensees obtaining qualifying and 
continuing education from education providers, the value of the time 
they spend in those classes and studying outside of class, and the same 
education-related costs for all unsuccessful test takers. This estimate 
is conservative because it counts preparer education time and expense 
for all licensees, including enrolled agents, who have continuing 
education requirements under that program, and employees of tax 
preparation chains that require similar education for all of their 
preparers. Appendix I describes how we made our estimate. 

IRS has developed rough measures of return on investment in terms of 
tax revenue that it assesses from uncovering noncompliance. Generally, 
IRS cites an average return on investment for enforcement of 4:1, that 
is, IRS estimates that it collects $4 in revenue for every $1 of 
funding.[Footnote 38] For the Oregon paid preparer regulatory regime to 
be considered a reasonably cost-effective tax administration policy by 
this standard, it would have to account for only a small share of the 
$390 million in higher federal tax revenue we estimated came in from 
Oregon compared to the rest of the country.[Footnote 39] It is 
important to note that the 4:1 IRS average return is based on 
administrative spending and such expenses are less than 10 percent of 
our approximately $6 million annual total cost estimate for the Oregon 
program. 

Regulation of preparers can also have the effect of increasing the 
price of tax preparation services by reducing the supply of paid 
preparers. A California tax preparer association representative said 
that the costs to obtain and maintain CRTP status are fairly low and 
likely do not have much of an impact on prices consumers pay, and that 
the requirements to become a paid preparer are not so great that the 
number of paid preparers in the state is being held lower than it would 
be without any regulation. In Oregon, however, direct costs to become a 
paid preparer and to maintain licensed status are somewhat higher. 
Potentially more important, however, is the requirement that LTPs only 
work in offices supervised by an LTC, attorney, or CPA, and that LTCs 
may not supervise more than two offices. This means that there can be a 
substantial bar to the opening of a new tax preparation business if the 
owner cannot find and recruit an LTC. We were told by a representative 
of a tax preparation chain that he had experienced difficulty in 
opening a new rural office because he could not find an LTC to 
supervise LTPs. However, since there are somewhat more LTCs in Oregon 
than LTPs, such problems may be limited.[Footnote 40] 

Data that could be used to analyze prices charged by paid preparers in 
California or Oregon, or to compare prices charged in those states with 
the rest of the country, are not available. NRP data, however, provide 
a related point of comparison on the use of paid preparers. NRP data 
show that taxpayers in Oregon are somewhat less likely to use a paid 
preparer than taxpayers in the rest of the country and even less likely 
to use paid preparers than taxpayers in California. NRP data show that 
about 58 percent of individual taxpayers used paid preparers 
nationally, while only 49 percent of Oregon taxpayers did so. About 64 
percent of California tax returns were prepared by paid preparers. It 
is possible that the Oregon regulatory regime has had the effect of 
reducing the supply of paid preparers, leading to an increase in the 
price charged for the service. 

California and Oregon Officials Consider Their Programs to Be 
Beneficial: 

Program administrators and preparer community representatives in both 
California and Oregon described their programs as having benefits that 
outweigh their costs. Officials in both states also said they believe 
that paid prepared tax returns are more accurate due to their paid 
preparer regulatory regimes. However, neither California nor Oregon 
program administrators have analyzed tax returns to see if this is the 
case. Representatives also noted that registration facilitates 
communication with paid preparers that are registered or licensed, so 
notifying them about, for example, recent changes in tax rules or 
forms, can be done fairly easily. 

Program administrators and paid preparer community representatives in 
California and Oregon also told us education requirements likely reduce 
the number of incompetent paid preparers and have led to a more 
professional tax preparation industry. California and Oregon program 
administrators also said that consumers benefit from the ability to go 
online and verify whether a paid preparer is registered or licensed. 
Both state programs also give taxpayers the ability to seek restitution 
when wronged by a paid preparer[Footnote 41]. 

A benefit of the Oregon program is that prospective preparers who 
cannot pass the state examination are not allowed to prepare tax 
returns in that state. As noted previously, the Oregon LTP examination 
has only a 54 percent passing rate. This means that many people who 
want to become paid preparers but lack the knowledge and skills 
necessary to pass the Oregon exam are not legally preparing tax 
returns. People in every other state with a similar desire to become a 
paid preparer--and a similar lack of skill--are presumably preparing 
tax returns. 

Occupational licensing of other professions has been shown to have 
costs and benefits to the consumer[Footnote 42]. As with other markets 
for services, licensing paid preparers might be expected to have 
several potential effects depending on how licensing requirements are 
designed. Depending on the level of education or expertise required to 
obtain a license, some preparers who become licensed may acquire 
additional knowledge, which helps them better prepare returns or expand 
their expertise to additional types of returns. In Oregon, officials 
said that they believe unlicensed tax preparers cost the consumer money 
when they prepare incorrect or inaccurate tax returns. Occupational 
licensing of other professions suggests that taxpayers may be willing 
to pay more to have their returns prepared by registered or licensed 
paid preparers if the regulatory requirements (i.e., education 
requirements) provide greater assurance of a higher quality prepared 
return. Consumers who continue to use these paid preparers may benefit 
as a result and some taxpayers who previously self prepared their own 
returns may switch to a licensed or registered preparer because of 
additional assurance of quality service. On the other hand, if the 
licensing requirements cause some preparers to no longer offer 
services, prices may rise and some taxpayers may switch to self 
preparation. 

Implications for a National Regulatory Program: 

The California and Oregon paid preparer regulation programs provide 
reference points for national policymakers when considering a national 
paid preparer regulatory regime. In both cases, program costs are 
driven by the scope of the program. As with the differences we 
identified in California and Oregon, a more extensive national program 
will likely cost more to administer than a less extensive one. 

An additional point of comparison for policymakers considering a 
potential national paid preparer program is IRS's enrolled agent 
program. Enrolled agents are paid preparers who are permitted to 
represent their clients in matters before IRS. Enrolled agents have to 
either pass a 3-part examination covering individual income taxes, 
business taxes and representation, and practices and procedures, or 
have specific IRS experience.[Footnote 43] During the period May 2007 
through April 2008, the overall passing rate for the three parts of the 
examination was 48 percent.[Footnote 44] Prospective enrolled agents 
also have to meet continuing education requirements and pay a $125 
registration fee every 3 years. One area in which the enrolled agent 
program parallels the two state programs we studied is that the 
examination is handled through a contract that is of no direct cost to 
the government. A private company developed the tests and administers 
them at sites around the country and it is compensated entirely through 
fees of about $100 that test takers pay to take each part of the 3-part 
examination. Most of the test taking fee is retained by the contractor, 
but $11 is remitted to IRS. Applicants are also required to allow IRS 
to conduct a background check.[Footnote 45] 

IRS officials in OPR said that the more a national program is expected 
to accomplish, the more expensive it will likely be to design, 
implement, and administer.[Footnote 46] Enforcement is a key 
consideration, as even the fairly modest enforcement efforts in the two 
states we reviewed took up 19 percent of total administrative costs in 
Oregon and 23 percent in California. IRS officials said that more 
extensive enforcement nationwide could be very costly. IRS officials 
said they have not developed specific costs for a national regime, in 
part because they are uncertain which of the many potential elements 
the program would include. 

Conclusions: 

The California and Oregon regulatory regimes point to the feasibility 
of a nationwide regulatory regime involving paid preparer education, 
registration, and, as in Oregon's case, testing. Both states have 
enacted registration and other requirements while funding the 
administration of their programs through relatively modest fees paid by 
paid preparers, similar to the way that IRS sees to the testing of 
enrolled agents. A key benefit from the Oregon approach is the apparent 
rigor of its qualifying examinations. Just under half of the people who 
take the Oregon LTP examination fail to pass. These people are not 
legally preparing tax returns in Oregon today, at least not until they 
are able to pass the examination. Paid preparers with an equivalent 
lack of demonstrated ability may well be working as paid preparers in 
other states. 

Available data do not conclusively support or refute the idea that 
adopting some or all of the California or Oregon program elements at 
the national level would improve the accuracy of paid prepared returns 
or reduce the tax gap. However, the more stringent requirements of the 
Oregon regime along with our modeling results suggest that an Oregon- 
style approach to paid preparer regulation may be beneficial. The 
higher level of accuracy found on Oregon returns meant $390 million 
more in income taxes paid in Oregon than would have been paid if Oregon 
returns were as accurate as returns everywhere else. The cost of the 
Oregon program is quite small in comparison, about $490,000 per year in 
administrative expenses and an estimated total of about $6 million 
after including the time and expense associated with paid preparers 
meeting their education and testing requirements. If only a small share 
of the increased revenue is attributable to the Oregon regulatory 
regime, it would compare favorably to IRS's overall efforts to increase 
reporting accuracy. With over half of individual taxpayers using paid 
preparers, it may be possible to make meaningful progress towards 
narrowing the tax gap by requiring all paid preparers to demonstrate 
competence before being allowed to prepare other people's tax returns. 

However, because the extent, if any, to which the Oregon regulatory 
regime improves federal tax return accuracy, is uncertain, if a similar 
regulatory regime is adopted at the federal level, its effect on tax 
return accuracy should be assessed. Because IRS has resumed periodic 
studies of tax return accuracy, such a study could compare accuracy of 
returns before and after implementation of a federal regime. 

Matter for Congressional Consideration: 

If Congress judges that the Oregon paid preparer regulatory regime is 
likely to account for at least a modest portion of the higher accuracy 
of Oregon federal tax returns and could be implemented nationwide at a 
favorable cost compared to the potential benefits of improved accuracy, 
it should consider adopting a similar regime nationwide. In light of 
the uncertainty about the extent to which Oregon's regime improves tax 
return accuracy, if Congress enacts national paid preparer legislation, 
it should also require IRS to evaluate its effectiveness. 

Agency Comments: 

In a letter commenting on a draft of this report dated August 1, 2008, 
the Commissioner of Internal Revenue noted the important role that paid 
preparers play in supporting a fair, efficient, and effective system of 
tax administration. His letter also notes IRS's strategy of working 
with paid preparers and curbing abuses by unscrupulous preparers. IRS 
also provided technical comments which we incorporated. The 
Commissioner's letter is included in appendix II. 

As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents 
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days 
after its date. At that time, we will send copies of this report to the 
Secretary of the Treasury, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and 
other interested parties. This report is available at no charge on 
GAO's Web site at [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov]. 

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-9110 or brostekm@gao.gov. Contact points for 
our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found 
on the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report are 
listed in appendix III. 

Signed by: 

Michael Brostek: 
Director, Tax Issues Strategic Issues Team: 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology: 

Our objectives were to answer the following questions: (1) How do IRS, 
California, Oregon, and other states regulate paid preparers? (2) Using 
available IRS data, how does the accuracy of federal tax returns in 
California and Oregon compare to that of returns in the rest of the 
country, after accounting for other factors that might influence 
accuracy? (3) What are the state-level costs and benefits of the paid 
preparer programs in California and Oregon and what insights do they 
provide for possible benefits if Congress were to enact national paid 
preparer registration or licensing requirements? 

To answer the first and third objectives we conducted a literature 
review of both the California and Oregon paid preparer programs, 
including a review of applicable laws and budget documents. We also 
interviewed state program administrators from the California Tax 
Education Council and the Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners (OBTP); 
officials from the California Franchise Tax Board and the Oregon 
Department of Revenue; and leaders in each state's paid preparer 
community, and reviewed documents provided to us by them. At the 
federal level, we reviewed appropriate legislation concerning the 
regulation of paid preparers, interviewed IRS officials, primarily from 
the Office of Professional Responsibility, and reviewed documents 
related to the enrolled agent program. We also interviewed and obtained 
data from an official from Prometric, the company IRS contracted with 
to develop and administer the enrolled agent examinations. We 
interviewed the National Taxpayer Advocate and members of her staff 
concerning her prior recommendations to regulate paid preparers. We 
also met with a representative from the National Association of 
Enrolled Agents to understand their perspective on a more expansive 
national regulatory regime. Finally, we conducted a literature review 
of professional occupational regulation to understand the potential 
effects of occupational regulation on the paid preparer profession. In 
identifying nonfederal paid preparer regulation programs, we limited 
our review to state governments and requirements concerning 
qualification, registration, or licensing of paid preparers and we did 
not consider possible county or city regulations, or laws dealing with 
paid tax return preparer conduct. 

For the discussion of costs and benefits from the Oregon program in the 
third objective, we also used information from the OBTP about program 
costs and the number of new and returning licensees in 2007. We 
obtained information from education providers about the fees that they 
charge for basic and continuing education. We also used the U.S. Bureau 
of Labor Statistics national average hourly wage for paid tax return 
preparers--$16.78 in 2007--the value of the time spent obtaining the 
education. Using this information, we developed an estimate of the 
total cost of the Oregon program. In considering costs to include, we 
included higher-end estimates where possible to ensure that our 
estimate of the total cost of the Oregon program was conservative. For 
example, we did not consider the fact that many Oregon licensees are 
employed by a national tax preparation chain that requires its paid 
preparers to receive initial and continuing education, so they would be 
obtaining that education regardless of the Oregon laws. 

To answer the second objective, we analyzed data from IRS's National 
Research Program (NRP). The NRP contains detailed tax and audit data 
from approximately 47,000 randomly selected tax year 2001 returns, and 
includes extensive compliance data including line-by-line estimates of 
accuracy.[Footnote 47] Unlike other compliance-related data sets, NRP 
data are generalizable to the population of individual taxpayers 
throughout the U.S. While NRP was not designed for specific state-level 
analysis, in conjunction with IRS's NRP officials, we agreed on the 
types of analysis that the data would support and which variables could 
be used. 

Our analysis comprised four main steps, each of which is explained in 
more detail below. We first examined the odds that returns from 
different locations and using different preparation types were 
accurate. Next, we considered the relative likelihood that a return was 
accurate, prior to controlling for other factors. Additionally, 
recognizing that Oregon and California differ from the rest of the 
country in terms of factors potentially related to a return's accuracy, 
we developed multivariate statistical models to assess whether returns 
from these states were more or less likely than returns from other 
states to require liability changes of $100 or more in absolute value 
after controlling for other factors. We also assessed differences in 
the accuracy of self-prepared tax returns. Finally, we estimated 
potential cost savings using multivariate regression analysis to assess 
the size of average tax liability changes for Oregon or California 
returns relative to the returns in the rest of the United States, 
controlling for other factors.[Footnote 48] 

In creating our statistical models, we examined a variety of variables 
on the basis of previous research, our reports, and recommendations 
from NRP personnel. Our final model included measures of the complexity 
of the return,[Footnote 49] including whether it was for a sole 
proprietor or claimed the Earned Income Credit (EIC). We also included 
the examination class of the return,[Footnote 50] taxpayer adjusted 
gross income in quartiles, whether the return was e-filed, filing 
status, and a proxy for a state's aggregate level of English 
proficiency.[Footnote 51] All models were calculated using sampling 
weights and robust estimation to account for differential variation 
among returns in distinct sampling strata. 

Logistic Regression: 

Table 3 illustrates differences in likelihood that returns from 
different locations and using different preparation types were 
accurate. Column A of table 3 shows that, prior to controlling for 
other factors, 54 percent of California returns and 71 percent of 
Oregon returns were accurate compared to 64 percent of returns in the 
rest of the United States. On average, 58 percent of paid preparer 
returns were accurate, compared to 70 percent of self-prepared returns. 
The lower half of table 3 illustrates the combined effect of location 
and preparation status. Prior to controlling for other factors, 49 
percent of California paid preparer returns and 67 percent of Oregon 
paid preparer returns were accurate, compared to 59 percent of paid 
preparer returns in the rest of the country. Similarly, without 
controlling for other factors, 63 percent of California self-prepared 
returns and 75 percent of Oregon self-prepared returns were accurate, 
compared to 71 percent of self-prepared returns in the rest of the 
country. The odds within each category, shown in column C, compare the 
proportion of returns that were accurate to the proportion of returns 
that were not accurate. 

Table 3: Percentages, Odds, and Odds Ratios for Return Accuracy, before 
and after Controlling for Other Factors: 

Location: California (average); 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 54.1; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 45.9; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 1.18; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 
.66[A]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): .81[A]. 

Location: Oregon (average); 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 71.0; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 29.0; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 2.45; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 
1.37[A]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): 1.54[A]. 

Location: Rest of U.S.; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 64.2; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 35.8; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 1.79; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): [B]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): [B]. 

Preparation type: Paid preparer (ave); 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 58.0; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 42.0; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 1.38; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 
.58[A]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): .89[A]. 

Preparation type: Self prepared (ave); 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 70.3; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 29.7; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 2.37; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): [B]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): [B]. 

Location by preparation type: Paid Preparer Returns; California paid 
preparer; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 49.4; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 50.6; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): .98; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 
.67[A]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): .78[A]. 

Location by preparation type: Paid Preparer Returns; Oregon paid 
preparer; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 67.1; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 32.9; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 2.04; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 1.41; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): 1.72[A]. 

Location by preparation type: Paid Preparer Returns; Rest of U.S. paid 
preparer; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 59.2; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 40.8; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 1.45; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): [B]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): [B]. 

Location by preparation type: Self-prepared returns; California self-
prepared; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 62.5; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 37.5; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 1.67; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 
.68[A]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): .85. 

Location by preparation type: Self-prepared returns; Oregon self-
prepared; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 74.8; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 25.2; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 2.97; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): 1.21; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): 1.29. 

Location by preparation type: Self-prepared returns; Rest of U.S. self-
prepared; 
Percentage of accurate returns (A): 71.1; 
Percentage of nonaccurate returns (B): 28.9; 
Odds of accuracy C = (A/B): 2.46; 
Unadjusted odds ratio prior to controlling for other factors (D): [B]; 
Adjusted odds ratio controlling for other factors (E): [Empty]. 

Sources: GAO analysis of IRS's NRP data. 

[A] Indicates statistical significance at the 95 percent confidence 
level. The NRP sample is only one of an infinite number of samples that 
could have been selected to represent the population of taxpayers in 
the U.S. Statistical significance at the 95 percent level indicates 
that there is less than a 5 percent chance we would have gotten a 
result of this magnitude if there were no actual difference between the 
group of interest and the reference category in the population. 

[B] Indicates referent category of self-prepared returns and/or returns 
in the rest of the United States. 

[End of table] 

For the next step, we used odds ratios to compare the relative 
likelihood that returns from different locations or of different 
preparation types were accurate. The unadjusted odds ratio in column D 
compares the odds of return accuracy in each specific subgroup to a 
reference group, prior to controlling for other factors. An odds ratio 
of 1 illustrates that on average, returns for the two groups have the 
same odds of being accurate, while odds ratios above 1 indicate a 
higher likelihood of accuracy and odds ratios below 1 indicate a lower 
likelihood of accuracy. Column D of table 3 illustrates that, prior to 
controlling for other factors, California returns on average had lower 
odds of accuracy than returns in the rest of the country, by a factor 
of .66 (34 percent lower). Conversely, Oregon returns on average had 
higher odds of accuracy than the rest of the country, by a factor of 
1.37 (37 percent), before we account for other factors that might 
influence accuracy. This pattern holds when we compare returns using 
different preparation methods to similarly prepared returns. For 
example, California paid preparer returns have odds of accuracy 
approximately 33 percent lower than paid preparer returns in the rest 
of the country, and Oregon paid preparer returns have odds that are 41 
percent higher than similarly prepared returns in the rest of the 
country, before controlling for other factors. 

These unadjusted odds do not control for other factors that might 
differentiate between returns in Oregon and California compared to 
those in the rest of the country. However, descriptive data reveal that 
the characteristics of returns filed in California and Oregon differ 
from the characteristics of returns filed in the U.S. as a whole. For 
example, a greater proportion of Oregon and California residents file 
sole proprietor returns than in the U.S., on average. 

To control for potential differences that might influence the 
likelihood of filing an accurate return, we used multivariate logistic 
regression. These models enabled us to compare the adjusted odds of 
accuracy for returns from Oregon or California with returns in the rest 
of the country, holding constant the effect of other factors that could 
affect accuracy. Column E in the upper half of table 3 shows that the 
odds of accuracy for an average Oregon return were still higher when 
compared to the rest of the country, and the odds of accuracy for a 
California return were still lower, after controlling for other 
factors. Additionally, paid preparer returns, on average, had lower 
odds of accuracy than self-prepared returns, controlling for other 
factors including location. As we note previously, not all mistakes on 
paid prepared tax returns are the fault of the paid preparer. 

The results for all returns in the upper half of table 3 treat location 
and preparation type as distinct factors, without considering potential 
interaction between location and preparation type. To ensure that these 
estimates did not mask compliance differences between paid preparer and 
self-prepared returns and to assess the potential impact of regulation 
on the population directly affected by the regime (paid preparers), we 
also examined self-prepared and paid preparer returns separately (see 
the lower half of table 3). These models reveal pronounced effects 
among paid preparers, after controlling for other factors. Among paid 
preparer returns, Oregon returns had odds of accuracy 72 percent 
higher, and California returns had odds of accuracy 22 percent lower, 
than comparable paid preparer returns in the rest of the country. While 
self-prepared returns in California had lower odds of accuracy than 
self-prepared returns in the rest of the country, and Oregon returns 
had higher odds of accuracy after controlling for other factors, these 
results were not statistically significant at the 95 percent level. 

Our estimates of the impact of location on the likelihood that a return 
was accurate had fairly wide confidence intervals. One reason for this 
is due to our inability to incorporate the full range of individual or 
state-level factors that might influence the likelihood of compliance, 
such as whether a paid prepared return was prepared by an attorney or 
CPA. Additionally, the NRP sample was designed for purposes other than 
to compare states, which resulted in wider confidence bounds than would 
a sample designed specifically for state-level estimates.[Footnote 52] 

Our analyses identified several factors other than location that 
influenced the likelihood that a return would require less than $100 in 
liability changes, both among returns in general and the subpopulation 
of paid preparer returns. For example, the odds that a return claiming 
the EIC was accurate were less than half those of returns that did not 
claim the EIC in all models.[Footnote 53] Similarly, sole proprietor 
returns (those individual returns that had an attached Schedule C, 
Profit or Loss from Business) had lower odds of being accurate than 
other returns. Additionally, returns with a filing status of "married, 
filing separately" were significantly less likely to be accurate than 
returns in any other filing status. Overall, 1040 forms with total 
positive incomes of less than $100,000 had higher odds of accuracy 
compared to form 1040 returns with total positive income of $100,000 or 
above. Conversely, among forms with total positive income of $100,000, 
forms 1040F, Profit or Loss from Farming, and 1040C, U.S. Departing 
Alien Income Tax Return, were less likely to be accurate. In general, e-
filed returns had slightly lower odds of accuracy than paper returns. 

In addition to our main logistic regression model, we conducted a 
series of alternative analyses to examine the impact of location and 
paid preparer status with additional control factors and alternative 
dependent variables, and found results generally consistent with the 
models presented in table 3. These included several models with and 
without various aggregate state factors (such as per capita income and 
whether a state had an income tax), with alternative measures of 
complexity (including one based on the number of schedules filed), and 
with a dummy variable for returns that were software generated but not 
e-filed.[Footnote 54] Finally, we examined alternative dependent 
variables, including tax liability changes prior to EIC and additional 
child credits, and the net sum of dollar values of line item 
adjustments for each return. These additional analyses give us 
confidence that our results are robust to a variety of model 
specifications and different definitions of accuracy. 

Cost Savings: 

To identify potential cost savings from an Oregon-style regulatory 
regime, we used multivariate linear analysis to assess the size of 
average tax liability changes among all returns, controlling for other 
factors. We conducted diagnostic analysis to identify and exclude 
outliers and potentially high-leverage cases--individual cases that 
have the potential to disproportionately affect our estimate when 
compared to other cases. Our estimate of savings is thus conservative 
when compared to an analysis that includes all cases, as it does not 
incorporate the savings generated by a limited number of cases with 
relatively large liability changes. After controlling for the other 
factors described, we found that the average return in Oregon required 
significantly lower changes in tax liability than returns in California 
or the rest of the country. The average Oregon return required tax 
liability increases that were approximately $250 lower than comparable 
returns in the rest of the country. In contrast, the average California 
return required tax liability increases that were approximately $90 
higher than returns in the rest of the country, controlling for other 
characteristics. 

We conducted this performance audit from September 2007 through July 
2008 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit 
to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 
We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for 
our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Comments from the Internal Revenue Service: 

Department Of The Treasury: 
Commissioner: 
Internal Revenue Service: 
Washington, D.C. 20224: 

August 1, 2008: 

Mr. Michael Brostek: 
Director, Tax Issues: 
U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): 
441 G Street, N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20548: 

Dear Mr. Brostek: 

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on the draft 
Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled "Tax Preparers: 
Oregon's Regulatory Regime May Lead to Improved Federal Tax Return 
Accuracy and Provides a Possible Model for National Regulations" (GAO-
08-781). 

According to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data, the majority of 
individual taxpayers used a return preparer in 2006. The IRS recognizes 
the critical role of these preparers in supporting a fair, efficient, 
and effective system of tax administration. Our strategy is to enhance 
service to and collaboration with return preparers; ensure coordinated 
and consistent oversight to curb abuses by unscrupulous preparers; and 
identify and provide new tools to preparers. 

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss in more detail, 
please contact me or Michael Chesman, Director, Office of Professional 
Responsibility, at (202) 927-3397. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Douglas H. Shulman: 

[End of section] 

Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contact: 

Michael Brostek, (202) 512-9110 or brostekm@gao.gov: 

Acknowledgments: 

In addition to the contact person named above, David Lewis, Assistant 
Director; Crystal Bernard; Amy Bowser; James Cook; John Mingus; Ed 
Nannenhorn; Karen O'Conor; and Anna Maria Ortiz made key contributions 
to this report. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] GAO, Tax Administration: 2007 Filing Season Continues Trend of 
Improvement, but Opportunities to Reduce Costs and Increase Compliance 
Should be Evaluated, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-
08-38] (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 15, 2007). 

[2] GAO, Paid Tax Return Preparers: In a Limited Study, Chain Preparers 
Made Serious Errors, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-
06-563T] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 4, 2006). 

[3] The results of the 2001 NRP are the most recent IRS compliance 
research data available. 

[4] Enrolled agents are allowed to represent a taxpayer before the IRS, 
to prepare and file documents with the IRS for the taxpayer, and to 
correspond and communicate with the IRS. Individuals can become 
enrolled agents by passing a 3-part examination; IRS waives the 
examination requirement for people with specific prior work experience 
at IRS. 

[5] We categorize a return as "accurate" if the IRS examination found 
that it required a change of tax liability of less than $100 in 
absolute value. 

[6] See 26 U.S.C. ß 7701(a)(36). 

[7] Regulation of unenrolled preparers is the principal focus of this 
report. 

[8] Enrolled agents must complete 72 hours of continuing education and 
renew their registration every 3 years. 

[9] IRS officials said that the number of applications for enrollment 
was 3,108 in fiscal year 2006 and 1,916 in fiscal year 2007. In fiscal 
year 2005 and 2006, there were over 11,000 candidates taking the 
examinations per year and 5,847 did so in fiscal year 2007. Enrollment 
fees increased from $80 to $125 in fiscal year 2007. Total examination 
fees increased from $55 to $291 in 2006. 

[10] GAO, Paid Tax Return Preparers: In a Limited Study, Chain 
Preparers Made Serious Errors, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-
bin/getrpt?GAO-06-563T] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 4, 2006). 

[11] All percentage estimates from the NRP files have margins of error 
of plus or minus 5 percentage points or less, unless otherwise noted. 
All numerical estimates other than percentages have margins of error of 
plus or minus 5 percent or less of the value of those numerical 
estimates, unless otherwise noted. 

[12] GAO, Tax Deductions: Further Estimates of Taxpayers Who May Have 
Overpaid Federal Taxes by Not Itemizing, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-02-509] (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 
29, 2002). 

[13] GAO, Student Aid and Postsecondary Tax Preferences: Limited 
Research Exists on Effectiveness of Tools to Assist Students and 
Families through Title IV Student Aid and Tax Preferences, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-684] (Washington, D.C.: July 
29, 2005). 

[14] GAO, Paid Tax Return Preparers: In a Limited Study, Chain 
Preparers Made Serious Errors, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-
bin/getrpt?GAO-06-563T] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 4, 2006). 

[15] Department of Justice, U.S. Government Sues Jackson Hewitt Tax 
Preparation Franchises in Four States, Alleging Pervasive Fraud (Apr. 
3, 2007), available at [hyperlink, 
http://www.usdoj.gov/tax/txdv07215.htm]. 

[16] Department of Justice, Corporations That Owned Jackson Hewitt 
Franchises in Three States Agree to be Barred from Tax Return 
Preparation (Sept. 28, 2007), available at [hyperlink, 
http://www.usdoj.gov/tax/txdv07779.htm]. 

[17] GAO, Internal Revenue Service: Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Request and 
Interim Performance Results of IRS's 2008 Tax Filing Season, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-567] (Washington, 
D.C.: Mar. 13, 2008). 

[18] The National Taxpayer Advocate, National Taxpayer Advocate--FY 
2002 Annual Report to Congress (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 31, 2002) and 
National Taxpayer Advocate--2003 Annual Report to Congress (Washington, 
D.C.: Dec. 31, 2003). 

[19] The 2 years of experience can be time spent preparing tax returns 
in another state or while working for an attorney, CPA, or enrolled 
agent. It may not include time preparing tax returns in violation of 
the registration requirement. 

[20] Trust company and financial institution employees functioning 
within the scope of their employment are also exempt from the 
registration requirements. 

[21] The California FTB is responsible for administering the state's 
personal income and corporate tax. 

[22] Of the 77 individuals identified, 56 registered within the 90-day 
period and were not fined. The other 21 were fined $2,500. Of the 21 
who were fined, 11 registered in the next year and were not subject to 
any additional penalties. Six of the 21 did not register and were 
issued the $5,000 penalty. The remaining 4 were no longer preparing 
returns. 

[23] Public accountants and their employees, employees of businesses 
who prepare only their businesses' tax returns, fiduciaries and their 
employees while acting on behalf of estates, and employees of 
governmental agencies while performing official duties are also exempt 
from Oregon's licensing requirements. 

[24] Tax preparation businesses operating in Oregon must also register 
with OBTP. As of February 1, 2008, the annual tax preparation business 
registration fee was $110. 

[25] The laws applicable to paid preparers do not apply to attorneys, 
CPAs, and the employees of CPAs. However, an LTP working under the 
supervision of a CPA or attorney must still follow the applicable paid 
preparer laws because the LTP has chosen to be licensed by the OBTP. 

[26] Continuing education may be accepted for up to 260 hours of work 
experience at the rate of 1 hour of education for 5 hours of work 
experience provided the course is tax related, taken within 1 year of 
applying to become an LTC, and credit for the course is not claimed to 
fulfill continuing education requirements for a license renewal. 

[27] All passing rate figures are for the 12-month period beginning 
March 1, 2006. The 30 percent passing rate for the LTC examination is 
an overall figure for both the full examination and the state-law-only 
portion of the examination given to enrolled agents. The passing rate 
for the full LTC examination is 25 percent and the state-law-only 
portion is 71 percent. 

[28] We limited our search for enacted laws and pending legislation to 
those concerning paid preparer qualifications and did not search for 
pending or enacted legislation concerning paid preparer conduct. Also, 
our search may not have identified all recent activity in states aside 
from the states we found. 

[29] The United States territory of Guam also has a tax preparer 
program that requires all paid preparers to pass an examination, 
register with Guam's Department of Revenue and Taxation, and maintain a 
surety bond. 

[30] The bounds of our estimates for how Oregon compared to the rest of 
the country are relatively wide. For example, the 95 percent confidence 
interval for our model among paid preparer returns suggests that the 
odds of accuracy among Oregon returns are higher than those for returns 
in the rest of the country by somewhere between 5 percent to 181 
percent. 

[31] The odds of accuracy are defined as the percentage of returns that 
are accurate over the percentage that are inaccurate in each category. 
The ratio of odds for one group (e.g., Oregon) to another group (the 
rest of the country) helps to illustrate the relative likelihood of 
accuracy. For an illustration of how odds ratios are calculated, see 
appendix I. 

[32] We also tested alternative dependent variables such as liability 
changes over $10 in value and whether the net value of line item 
adjustments exceeded $99. The results were largely consistent with our 
model using the $100 liability threshold change. 

[33] Computing accuracy for all Oregon returns takes into account that 
if the Oregon paid preparer regime decreases the likelihood of 
noncompliance for paid prepared returns, those wishing to be 
noncompliant might switch to preparing their own returns. Because 
Oregon self-prepared returns were no less accurate than returns 
elsewhere in the country, even if this switching occurred it likely 
would not completely offset the increased accuracy of paid prepared 
returns. 

[34] States besides Oregon with a statistically significant likelihood 
of having paid preparer returns that were more accurate than the 
national average, controlling for other factors, were Colorado, Iowa, 
New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

[35] CTEC's fiscal year operates from July 1 to June 30. 

[36] OBTP's biennial fiscal years 2005 through 2007 budget was about 
$980,000. 

[37] This includes about $29,000 in legal fees billed to OBTP by the 
Oregon Department of Justice. According to OBTP, these were mostly 
associated with enforcement actions, but also included some non-
enforcement-related matters. 

[38] GAO, Tax Compliance: Multiple Approaches Are Needed to Reduce the 
Tax Gap, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-488T] 
(Washington, D.C.: Feb. 16, 2007). 

[39] At $6 million in total cost, the Oregon regulatory regime would 
have to account for only about 6 percent ($23.4 million) of the $390 
million in higher federal tax return accuracy to compare favorably to 
IRS's estimated overall 4:1 return on investment. 

[40] An alternative to finding an LTC to supervise LTPs is to hire a 
CPA. Any individual employed by a CPA in Oregon may prepare tax 
returns, whether an LTP or not. 

[41] CRTP clients in California can make claims against the surety 
bonds that CRTPs are required to obtain. LTP and LTC clients can make 
complaints to OBTP, and OBTP can order restitution along with fines and 
penalties. 

[42] Morris M. Kleiner, Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or 
Restricting Competition, W.E. Upjohn Institute (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 
2006) summarizes the results of several studies on the effects of 
licensing on quality of service, prices, and earnings for workers in 
different service markets, including teachers, dentists, lawyers, and 
optometrists. 

[43] An enrolled agent applicant who is requesting enrollment based on 
former employment with IRS must have had (1) a minimum of 5 years 
continuous employment with IRS during which the applicant must have 
been regularly engaged in applying and interpreting the provisions of 
the Internal Revenue Code and the regulations relating to income, 
estate, gift, employment, or excise taxes, or (2) an aggregate of 10 or 
more years of employment in positions involving the application and 
interpretation of the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, at least 
3 of which occurred within the 5 years preceding the date of 
application. 

[44] Between May 2007 and April 2008, 1,856 of 4,844 attempts (38 
percent) at Part 1 of the examination were successful, as were 1,558 of 
3,438 attempts (45 percent) at Part 2, and 1,777 of 2,591 attempts at 
Part 3 (69 percent). 

[45] IRS data do not permit comparison of return accuracy by type of 
paid preparer. 

[46] OPR establishes and enforces standards of competence, integrity, 
and conduct for enrolled agents, attorneys, CPAs, and other individuals 
and groups covered by IRS Circular 230. 

[47] More accurate returns that result in higher revenues collected 
than less accurate returns are the measure of societal benefit that we 
considered for purposes of this report. 

[48] We define tax liability as taxes owed after accounting for the 
Earned Income Credit and the additional child tax credit. 

[49] Our measure of complexity is a three-point scale based on research 
presented by John Guyton, Karen Masken, and Mark Mazur at the 2007 
National Tax Association Conference on Taxation. 

[50] The examination class is defined by the income reported on the 
return and, for sole proprietors or farm owners, the gross receipts of 
the return. 

[51] All models were calculated using sampling weights and robust 
estimation to account for potential correlation between returns in the 
same sampling stratum. We used likelihood ratio tests and Aikake's 
Information Criterion when deciding on a final model specification. 

[52] The design effect, which compares the effect of a complicated 
sample design compared to a simple random sample, helps to illustrate 
the impact of the NRP sampling design on state-level estimates. These 
design effects indicate that standard errors for estimates of the 
effect of being in California and Oregon were more than 2 Ĺ times what 
we would expect to see from a random sample. Large standard errors make 
it more difficult to detect statistical significance. 

[53] Controlling for other factors, paid preparer returns claiming the 
EIC had odds of accuracy 76 percent lower than that of non-EIC paid 
preparer returns, whereas self prepared returns claiming the EIC had 
odds 68 percent lower than those of non-EIC self-prepared returns. 

[54] We could not find written IRS guidance on how to interpret the 
flag for computer-generated returns. Although IRS staff confirmed that 
the flag was distinct from the e-filing code, we found some overlap in 
the NRP data. The variable did not consistently improve model fit when 
added to the model described above. 

[End of section] 

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