Why Doesn’t the IRS Push the EA Designation?

On the tax blog-o-sphere, those of us who work in the field go round-and-round periodically, debating whether or not the regulation of tax preparers is a good idea. We know that the IRS thinks it’s a good idea.

But one obvious question hasn’t been asked: if the IRS thinks that licensing of tax preparers is so important, why doesn’t it just push the EA designation?

The IRS already oversees the EA program. There’s no new infrastructure to put in place. No new exams to create. The infrastructure and exams already exist.

Yet throughout the IRS’s ill-fated attempts at creating the “Registered Tax Return Preparer” designation, the IRS rarely mentioned the EA program, except as a side note of “CPAs, EAs and attorneys are exempt from the RTRP testing.”

It’s baffling why the IRS doesn’t say much about the EA program. When I was asked by fellow tax pros recently if I support making the RTRP a voluntary program, I said no — just encourage the unlicensed to become EAs. And it makes sense that the entity charged with overseeing EAs (the IRS) should be the ones doing that encouraging.

The EA designation is the one and only designation over which the IRS truly has control.

For crying out loud, for years — YEARS! — the IRS would end press releases by saying to consult “your CPA or other tax professional.” It took lobbying by the National Association of Enrolled Agents to get the IRS to actually start using the term “Enrolled Agent” in that sentence of press releases. And that just happened in the last couple of years.

I know the IRS can’t be “rah rah EAs,” and I don’t expect them to be because that’s OUR job as EAs.

But IRS silence over the existence of the EA designation really confuses me.