Tribes get new focus from IRS

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Internal Revenue has reached the final stage of a major restructuring of its functions into four new divisions.

One of these divisions, the "Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division," deals directly with tribal governments. The restructuring is part of a modernizing effort to improve services to taxpayers.

The "Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division" will serve employee plans, exempt organizations, and government entities. This includes federal, state, local and tribal governments.

As part of reorganization, a distinct office has been established to serve specific needs of tribal governments. The IRS agency reports that the new "Indian Tribal Government Office" will "develop a functional and interactive government-to-government relationship between the IRS and tribal governments as envisioned by the President's recent executive orders."

They direct federal agencies to work directly with tribal governments on a government-to-government basis. They also call on agencies to consult with tribal governments on policies which may affect tribes.

"Throughout the restructuring process, tribal governments have generously offered input and assistance to the team responsible for restructuring," said Christie Jacobs, director of the Indian Tribal Governments Office. As the restructuring effort moves into its final phase, the IRS seeks to continue that dialogue."

The division was renamed the "Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division" because many, including tribal governments, thought that the name should better reflect the unique nature of the government-to-government relationship. It had been called the "Tax Exempt Operating Division," leaving some tribal governments confused as to where they fit in the IRS system.

Over the past year, IRS representatives, like Jacobs, attended a number of national tribal meetings - the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes and others - giving presentations and taking comments on the restructuring.

"Some tribes have expressed concern that this new process may put them under the microscope," Jacobs said. "But I assure them the restructuring will only improve services."

Tribes have raised concerns about the consistency of policy within the agency and the problem of having to reeducate officials on the government-to-government relationship. Jacobs says the new office solves many of these problems, but they still need some help from the tribes.

The Indian Tribal Governments Office is staffed only by the director, but Jacobs says IRS soon will announce the opening of another position, manager of Outreach Planning and Review, which the agency hopes to have filled by a Native. The manager would be responsible for developing procedures and polices for the office and the agency's work with tribal governments.

The new office will include field teams responsible for five different regional areas - the East and Oklahoma, the Mid-West and Northern Plains, the Southwest, California and Nevada and the Northwest and Alaska.

Jacobs said IRS remains interested in feedback from tribes on the restructuring process and hopes that through her office, the agency will be able to develop better relations with tribal governments.