Marc - Column for 8/26

Paranoid, Procrastinating Customer of the Government…

I have always had this nearly unshakable feeling that I have done something wrong in any interaction I have with the government, be it local, state, or federal. This translates into me always having slight feelings of anxiousness whenever I have to do simple things like get a new license or ask questions about taxes. It is one of the more irrational things I regularly do.

Now couple that with the fact that many government agencies have adopted the language of referring to constituents as customers. Generally beneficial I think, but it does make for some odd situations. Personally, it puts me in the odd situation of being a governmental customer that feels like he has probably done something wrong. This sets the stage for one of the oddest experiences I have had to date with a facet of the United States government.

It all started when I received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service on June 6, 2004. The first line of the letter reads:

REQUEST FOR YOUR TAX RETURN

This is not something anyone wants to receive in the mail. The letter went on to state that IRS has “not received the following tax return(s)”. I guess the form letter works for folks that skip one or more years of filing. Luckily for me, the IRS was just missing one of my tax returns; the one for 2002. Of course, I was in shock for few seconds. I knew that I had filed taxes. Besides, that was after I had started filing jointly with my wife, and there is no way she would let something like that not get done. We had e-filed that year, and I was positive we had received and already spent the refund for our taxes.

Now, I had meant to take care of this soon after I received it, but my procrastination urge is nearly as strong as my irrational paranoia about the government. For some reason, I can sub-consciously suppress almost anything and just avoid a whole topic, household duty, or almost anything. In this instance, I was able suppress it for nearly six weeks. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be impressed by that, but in some perverse way I am.

Fast forward to August 16, 2004, I was clearing out some papers after an office move. I came across the letter from the IRS. This caused a new spurt of concern, so I decided to call the IRS at the number listed. After navigating through the various options in English and Spanish, I got a hold of an actual person. (I’m betting this one wasn’t sitting in one of those nice call centers in India.)

I explained the situation.
“Yes, I have a copy of my filing.”
“No… I have a printout. I filed electronically.”
“Yes, that’s the amount I received as refund. Yes, it was a direct deposit.”
“Umm… I’m not sure if I have my bank statement reflecting the deposit.”
This is when it got weird. The friendly IRS representative was telling me that he was able to find my return, but it was not marked ‘processed’. In his experience, this meant that it needed to be processed and money was owed to me. He then explained to me that I should not respond to the letter without proof that the money had been deposited into my checking account. I was in the odd situation of having to prove that the government did not owe me money.

After the call ended, I called up my friendly, local Credit Union and asked if they could look for the transaction. I was told it would cost close to sixty dollars to get a printout for the months of March and April 2003. Now, I would have to spend money to prove that the IRS did not, in fact, owe me money. That is just wrong. Luckily, that night my wife looked through our files (i.e. stacks of old banks statements shoved in various drawers) and amazingly found the relevant statement. Now, all I need to do is mail the response back.

I plan to do that as soon as I find stamps. :-)

Columns by Marc