Bureaucracy

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Bureaucracy

Years ago I received a letter from the IRS saying that I was being audited.  Now I'm not accountant, but apparently the IRS doesn't actually "audit" people like they did in the old days, where a bunch of guys would show up at your door with calculators and little hats and demand to see all your receipts, "or else".

Instead today they simply send you a letter asking about a specific line item on your tax return, and asking for evidence to support your claim that particular number is correct.  This was the letter I received.  I had written off some mortgage interest in a rental property I had owned several years prior, and for some reason it looked fishy to them.

I freaked.  This was the IRS!  After reading the letter I peered out my windows just in case the Men In Black were casing my house.  The money in question was several thousand dollars of tax writeoffs, so I was concerned.

So in my freaked-out state, I pulled out all of my old files and scoured them looking for all the documentation I could find on that particular real estate deal.  Since I'm an organized guy, I came up with 37 pages of documentation supporting my claim.

This is where the fun really started.

What was I supposed to do with all this stuff?  Copy it and mail it?  They didn't provide a mailing address for that purpose, and I wasn't just going to mail all this stuff to the return address, have it be the wrong address, and then be slapped with a huge fine or something.  Scan it and email it?  They didn't provide an email address.  Hm.

So I called them.  Which means I waited on hold for 45 minutes.  When I got a hold of a human (who was very nice and polite) I said had 37 pages of info to email them, the guy laughed.  Email? Oh how silly of me.  "What is this thing called 'email' of which you speak?" the IRS man said to me.  In the end, they wanted me to fax all this crap.  Fax.  37 pages plus a cover letter.  Great.

I didn't even own a fax machine (today, when some neanderthal from the dark ages wants a fax, I tell them to use email, forget it, or I e-fax it).  So I drove over to a friends house, battled his fax machine for a about 30 minutes, and finally faxed all that garage.

I ran back home and called the IRS again.  After all, this was a serious matter.  I didn't want them to tell me a week or two later that I was fined for bazillion dollars because they "never received my fax".

Another 45 minutes on hold.

I got another person (who again was very nice...amazingly those IRS staffers are the nicest people in the world).  I told her I had just sent them a very important fax and wanted to make sure they got it.  Here is the conversation, verbatim, to the best of my memory.  I am not exaggerating it in any way:

Her: You sent us a fax?

Me: Yes.

Her: When did you send it?

Me: About 45 minutes ago.

Her: 45 minutes ago?

Me: Yes.

Her: 45 minutes ago?  And you're just now calling?

Me: Yes.  What?  Am I too late or something?

Her: Too late?

Me: Uh, yeah.

Her: Sir, this is the IRS. You can't just send us a fax and then call in to see if we received it.  It's not in the system yet.

Me: System?

Her: That's correct, sir.

Me: Okay, how long does it take to 'get into the system'?

Her: I'm really not sure.

Me: Well look, this is a pretty important fax.  I'm being audited.  When can I call someone to verify you guys received that fax?

Her: About two weeks.

I thought she was joking and made her repeat herself twice.   She was not joking.  If you send a fax to the IRS, it literally takes two weeks just to see if they've received it.  I'm not making this up.  So then I said:

Me: Well wait a minute.  Let's say two weeks go by and you didn't receive the fax.  Aren't I going to get into some kind of trouble because I didn't respond to an audit information request?

Her: Oh not at all, sir.  It will take at least 90 days for us to know if you're in trouble or not.

Me:

Her: Sir, all you need to do is wait 90 days.  You will receive a letter with our response, either requesting additional information or informing you the information provided was adequate.

I gave up.  I did call back two weeks later to confirm my fax had arrived there but received the same basic answer of "I don't know, we'll let you know in three months."

So for three damn months I sat on pins and needles worrying about this stupid audit.  After about three and a half months later, I received a letter (in that horrible 1960's courier typewriter font the IRS is so fond of) saying that the information I provided was satisfactory and I was off the hook.

Wow.  I guess Harry Browne was right when he said that the irony of the government having a camera in every room in every home would be that the camera wouldn't work.  It's not just the government either.   The bureaucracy of large companies is often just as horrific as this.

It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

This article was originally published on February 20, 2012
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