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IRS Improperly Withholding Documents In Response to Freedom of Information Act Requests

On September 18, 2015, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), a bureau of the department of the Treasury, issued its Fiscal Year 2015 Statutory Review of Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.  TIGTA performs an internal-affairs function with respect to the Internal Revenue Service, both by investigating corrupt agents and attempts to interfere with the IRS’s functions by others, and by performing internal audits of the Internal Revenue Service to ensure it is functioning as it should.  With respect to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the IRS has been found wanting.  According to the Highlights of the report published by TIGTA, which can be found here, based on a sample examined by TIGTA, 12.3% improperly withheld information from requestors.  This likely confirms the suspicions of many practitioners who request documents from the IRS through FOIA on a regular basis.

The  relevant text of TIGTA’s summary provides:

TIGTA reviewed a statistically valid sample of 65 information requests from a population of 2,809 FOIA/Privacy Act information requests and found eight (12.3 percent) for which the IRS improperly withheld information from the requestors. The IRS also improperly withheld information for four (7.3 percent) of the 55 I.R.C. § 6103 information requests reviewed.

In addition, the IRS appears to be having substantial difficulty managing its workload, being unable to meet the statutory deadline in more than 25% of cases requesting return information.  According to TIGTA’s summary:

Even though the number of backlogged information request cases increased for the second straight year, TIGTA found that responses to all sampled FOIA/Privacy Act information requests were timely. While there are no statutory time frames within which the IRS must respond to taxpayers’ I.R.C. § 6103 information requests, the IRS established guidelines for all Disclosure Office personnel to contact the requestor and either provide an interim response or submit a status report prior to the expiration of 30 business days. TIGTA found that for 14 (25.5 percent) of the 55 I.R.C. § 6103 information requests reviewed, the IRS took more than 30 business days to provide a response.

Daniel Layton is a Tax Attorney and manages his law firm in downtown Anaheim.

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