IRS Hiding Its Tracks, As Usual
The Bush administration has illegally stopped making public detailed tax enforcement data, which has been used to show which kinds of taxpayers get the most and toughest audits, a noted tax researcher says.
As the story later shows, it does sound like the IRS is acting in violation of a court order, but I wouldn’t necessarily trust the charge being leveled by a “noted tax researchers” instead of a lawyer or judge. And it’s not shown whether this activity is at the behest of the Bush administration. I’ll go on with the rest of the story, which sounds like a government agency dodging accountability (certainly consistent with previous Bush administration behavior), but I wanted to point out a couple of things that don’t necessarily add up here at the beginning. The charges that it is illegal (with any certainty) or that it is related to the Bush administration (with any certainty) are unsubstantiated.
Syracuse University Professor Susan B. Long said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle late last week that since Nov. 1, 2004, the Internal Revenue Service has violated a 1976 court order requiring the release of the data.
IRS spokesman Terry Lemons responded Friday, “We do not believe we are in violation of the court order.”
Long, who has researched and written about federal tax administration for more than 30 years, used the Freedom of Information Act to win the court order in 1976 directing the revenue agency to provide her regularly with its data on criminal investigations, tax collections, the number and hours devoted to audits by income level and taxpayer category and other enforcement records.
Since 1989, her FOIA requests have been submitted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data-research organization at Syracuse of which she is co-director.
TRAC has used the records to report in 2000 that the Clinton administration was auditing poor people at a higher rate than rich people and in 2004 that business and corporate audits were down substantially and criminal tax enforcement was at an all-time low. TRAC also reported that in fiscal 2002-2004 IRS audited on average only a third of the largest corporations, which control 90 percent of all corporate assets and 87 percent of all corporate income.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Susan Long and her organization are acting as a watchdog to ensure that our government isn’t playing favorites. I’m not sure if there is a political motivation behind her group or not, but the more watchdogs looking after the government, the better. Which is why it’s especially pernicious that they’ve stopped responding to her requests.
They’ve been lax in providing any data past Mar 2004. The last time they presented any new data was Nov 2004, when they provided the report detailing activity until Mar 2004, and they again responded in April 2005, but there was no new data in this report. Susan Long had been requesting data annually (by court order, she apparently is entitled to data on a quarterly basis), but has been ramping up the rate of her requests since the IRS stopped complying.
This brings up a lot of very troubling questions. It goes without saying that I don’t trust the IRS. But now they appear to be actively hiding what they’re doing, and have stopped providing some of the data they readily gave in the past. From all I know of government, they’re not just trying to reduce workload, because every bureaucrat in existence loves to have more people working underneath them.
Are they actively trying to hide certain data? Is this data something that we, as a public, would find compelling to know? Is the Bush administration tied up in this at all? I’d like some answers.
(cross-posted at The Unrepentant Individual)