Function of Forms in the Substitute-for-Return Process
Professor Camp’s column considers further the question of what constitutes a tax return. He previously suggested the answer to that question depends on what purpose, or function, the return is supposed to serve. A return is not simply a form, but a form that serves a function. One should ignore neither form nor function, but Professor Camp maintains that the latter is more important. The primary function of a return is to satisfy the legal obligation imposed on taxpayers by section 6011 to self-report their financial transactions. lf a document does not sufficiently satisfy the section 6011 purpose, it should not constitute a return - regardless of its form – and the taxpayer should be subject to the appropriate sanction for failing to comply with the law. At the same time, the law requires forms for the excellent reason that the IRS must process hundreds of millions of returns. If taxpayers could fulfill their section 6011 responsibility using just any old scrap of paper, "the business of tax collecting would result in insurmountable confusion." That is why section 6011 and its regulations require taxpayers to use the "prescribed return forms." The forms are necessary for the IRS to perform its return processing function. The issue of what constitutes a return, therefore, is one of balance. This column continues Professor Camp’s look at how that balance between form and function should apply to taxpayers who participate in the substitute-for-return process under section 6020.