Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

TRAC-ing the IRS

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) exists under the aegis of Syracuse University. TRAC's mission is " to provide the American people -- and institutions of oversight such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers -- with comprehensive information about federal staffing, spending, and the enforcement activities of the federal government." One of the Federal agencies TRAC especially follows is the Internal Revenue Service. TRAC is obviously dependent upon the Freedom of Information Act for its info.

Though I am not at ease with the political orientation of certain individuals and organizations that fraternize with and bankroll TRAC, I must acknowledge TRAC's meticulousness with the authoritative information it purveys. Indeed, one of TRAC's co-directors is David Burnham, a well reputed investigative reporter with an upstanding publication record. TRAC certainly has better credibility than Burnham's alma mater, the New York Times.

In 1976, Susan B. Long, now TRAC's other co-director, obtained a court order on consent which requires the IRS to provide her with ongoing statistics regarding the IRS's audit, collection and other enforcement activities. This I have absolutely no problem with because it is only statistics, and not individual tax information. The American public certainly has the right to know how the IRS is doing its job, and indeed, the IRS should be doing its job so well that it should want the public to know how it is doing, statistically speaking. It should further be emphasized that the statistical info the IRS is required to provide to Ms. Long is not done specially to humor Susan Long; it is data that the IRS is required to and does compile in the course of its normal operations.

In any event, the IRS stopped providing Susan Long with the info as required under the court order. TRAC has just filed a lawsuit to enforce the court order.

Assuming that Susan B. Long's allegations are all founded (and I have every reason to expect that she will be able to substantiate them), I can well understand that the IRS is sick and tired of having to send the data to her. Having been similarly affected by FOIA requests when I worked at a visible job with the great Federal Bureaucracy, I can really empathize with the IRS on that one.

What bothers me about this, however, is that according to Susan Long, when she called the IRS out of bounds on this one the IRS initially denied any knowledge of that court order to which the IRS consented and which the IRS has obeyed (if only grudgingly) for the past 28 years.

I timely file my tax returns and pay my own taxes, and I fully expect the IRS to ensure that my fellow citizens are kicking in their fair share. Complying with the tax laws is never a pleasant thing to do, and the IRS regularly encounters resistance from the citizenry in that regard. The common citizen, then, expects the IRS to be diligent, relentless, and perhaps a bit harsh and cantankerous, because those qualities are often what it takes to enforce tax compliance. What the public does not expect, and what the courts should not tolerate, is the IRS lying.

If the ordinary citizen would take a similar attitude regarding the information he or she is required by law to timely provide to the IRS, what would happen next is quite obvious! The IRS should also be required to comply with the law.


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