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At their core, taxpayer rights are human rights. They are about our inherent
humanity.—Nina E. Olson

The federal income tax system does not exist for statutes, regulations, codes, enforcement, assessments, collection, redistribution, procedures, publications, liens, levies, refunds, liabilities, litigation, compliance, or even revenue. At its core, the federal income tax system exists for people. People like you, me, and all our loved ones including spouses, partners, parents, kids, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, grandkids, friends, and neighbors. The people who eat at our tables and sleep under our roofs. The tax system is about current and future generations who live and work in America, and even those who don’t but have the coveted prize of U.S. citizenship. It is about our shared vision of ensuring the well-being of all people, young, old, Black, Brown, White, Asian, Native, multiracial, religious, atheist, agnostic, male, female, transgender, straight, queer, or nonconforming. It is about ensuring that the people of and in America have what they need to survive and thrive, especially those who are vulnerable for any reason or no reason at all. Tax systems, like other government institutions, should be designed and administered to make life better for everyone. Because “we the people” are America, the beautiful, the federal tax system serves us. This is the truth that Nina E. Olson laid bare during her eighteen years of service as the longest-serving National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA).

Nina Olson flipped the traditional script that Americans are beholden to tax systems; rather, she insisted that the tax system must serve people, treating them with dignity and respect. NTA Olson not only led the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) to serve and protect individual taxpayers, but developed systems to shape recommendations and implement procedures to serve the greater good of humanity.

This essay will use Olson’s exceptional advocacy reshaping the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to describe how empowering taxpayer rights has helped to lift millions of children and their families out of poverty. These efforts are especially critical because the EITC lifts more children out of poverty each year than any other government program. As a result, Ms. Olson’s eighteen years of advocacy have helped to enrich countless lives—a generation of children and, in many cases, their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a second generation of the children’s children, have been spared from the abyss of poverty. Nina Olson has changed each of their worlds for the better and, in turn, all of ours.

Publication Citation

18 PITT. TAX REV. 157 (2020).