Try to get a list of questions from the IRS team so you can prepare your SMEs for the interviews.
You can ask nicely for the list, but exam might tell you that interviews are “open-ended” because they don’t know where the questions are going to take them once the interview starts. See if you can come to an agreement with the IRS about the number of interviews, the time duration, whether you can save time at the end to allow the taxpayer to ask clarifying questions, and whether they intend to record or transcribe the interviews and that you want a copy.
Once things are set with the IRS, then you need to prep your SMEs. We recommend going back through the facts related to what you gathered to support the particular business component or components that will be the subject matter of the interview. It is preferred if you are able to pull out documentation to refresh their memory, or interview notes, or technical questionnaires they may have completed. You may want to conduct a mock interview, but we don’t want the SME to rehearse. During the actual IRS interview, it is very important for the interview witness to be credible. Rehearsed responses sound like somebody doesn’t know the subject matter.
During the actual IRS interview, be prepared to push back if the questions are not relevant, or too broad, or you feel like they are not covering the activities related to the tax year under exam. If you feel like your SME is getting frustrated, then don’t hesitate to step in and ask for a break. Whatever you do, don’t leave your SME to fend for themselves. To the extent you believe one of your SMEs to be weak or too nervous to handle the IRS, then consider whether maybe two or more SMEs should be part of the same interview.
Interviews can make or break your case wide open. Make sure the SME understands the facts you have presented during the IDR process. In fact, it is a best practice to get SMEs involved once the IRS decides to audit a claim so that you are keeping key SMEs informed and ready throughout the exam.
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