As the former tax coL-
lector for New York City and the current Director of Brookings’ D.C. Revenue Project, I want to believe that Ruth Levine got it right (“Catching Up on Taxes,” 10/4). But my experiences tell me that D.C. officials are engaged in a public relations, rather than a management, strategy when it comes to tax evasion in the District.
An efficient enforcement strategy begins with the tax unit having accurate taxpayer information. The District does not. So much of its information is out of date that a large number of the notices going out are returned as undeliverable. When they come back there are no staff to handle them. Even when returned mail has new address information, it languishes in the bins and, after several months, will be thrown away. The District’s management has yet to think its way through the consequences of this new outflow of payment notices and has not put resources, into making the most of this opportunity to update its database.
Nor do I have Levine’s faith in a “new computer system.” New York City’s system, upon which this will be modeled, took more than six years to build and still falls short of fully integrating the property tax with all the other taxes. More importantly, such systems are massive databases and, therefore, no better than the information going into them. Again, at the moment, in the District that information needs a lot of work before it can be put into a state-of-the-art system.
Flooding the mail with notices and showcasing a few criminal cases does not constitute a tax enforcement program. Until D.C. residents and businesses receive accurate tax mailings and deal with well-trained staff, they will likely remain, as I, very skeptical that “DFR has turned the corner on tax evaders.”
The Brookings Institution