Feb. 11, 2008

IRS Flouts Court Orders, Refuses to Release Data on Its Tax Enforcement Activities

Public Citizen Joins Lawsuit to Force Agency to Release Records

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is flouting three court orders requiring it to regularly provide a nationally recognized researcher with the statistical data she needs for her studies, according to a court action brought today by the researcher.

The new motion was by filed by Public Citizen and the Seattle, Wash., law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine on behalf of Susan B. Long, a professor at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. For more than 30 years, Long has used the IRS’s own statistical data to examine how this powerful agency has been enforcing the nation’s tax laws.

In the Feb.11 filing, Long requests that Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington enforce two of her own court orders issued in 2006 against the agency, as well as the court's 1976 consent agreement on the same issue.

In addition to her position at the School of Management, Long since 1989 has been co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data-research organization affiliated with both Whitman and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. TRAC has provided the public with numerous special reports and detailed information about the operations of scores of federal agencies, including the IRS.

According to Long, “the unlawful actions of the IRS have worked to prevent the American people from seeing how the agency is enforcing the nation’s tax laws. The agency’s activities are unconscionable. How can the public have confidence that these critical laws are being enforced in an equitable and effective way when this powerful agency itself chooses to flout the law, and openly disobeys very clear court orders mandating what the IRS is required to do?”

For several decades after Long obtained the original 1976 decree from Judge Walter McGovern ordering the IRS to provide her with statistical information about its audit, collection and other enforcement activities, the agency largely abided by the ruling. Starting in mid-2004, however, the IRS began withholding more and more data, even while it acknowledged the existence of the 1976 order.

As a result, in early 2006, Long filed a motion in Seattle requesting the court to issue a new ruling requiring that the IRS abide by its previous order. Several months later, on April 4 and Aug. 2, 2006, Judge Pechman issued two orders requiring the agency to promptly provide her complete copies of a regularly produced statistical report called Table 37 and other data. The judge also awarded Long her attorney’s fees.

In the current filing with Pechman, however, Long said the agency had largely ignored the judge’s 2006 rulings and refused to abide by terms of the original consent order as well.

Because of the IRS’s very poor record, Long’s filing asked the court to establish a series of precise schedules for the production of the various statistical reports she has requested. In addition, on an ongoing basis, she asked the judge to require that the IRS certify in writing that the material it was producing was in fact complete.

Public Citizen has litigated more than 300 cases under the Freedom of Information Act in the past 35 years, winning most of them and forcing government agencies to disclose information that is gathered at taxpayer expense and that allows the public to exercise needed oversight of the government.

READ documents related to the case.

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