- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration has broken the law by stopping the public release of 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.

Professor Susan B. Long of Syracuse University 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.”

Ms. Long, who has researched and written about federal tax administration for more than 30 years, used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 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 from fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2004, IRS audited on average a third of the largest corporations, which control 90 percent of all corporate assets and 87 percent of all corporate income.

The 1976 court order listed 38 types of IRS reports, including five produced quarterly, that Ms. Long was entitled to receive “promptly” and regularly under the FOIA.

The court said IRS must continue to make the statistical data contained in the listed reports available without charge in future years “regardless of the format … hereafter compiled.”

Despite filing regular FOIA requests for the material, the last data Ms. Long received arrived Nov. 1, 2004, and covered only the first six months of fiscal 2004, through March of that year, she said.

“They really shut down access,” she said. Although the original court order covers some data compiled every three months, Ms. Long said that in recent years she had shifted mainly to requesting annual data compilations.

But when IRS stopped releasing the data, Ms. Long shifted first to six-month, then nine-month, and finally monthly requests “because that’s how they compile that data” — all without success.

“For years, TRAC requested data on an annual basis from the IRS,” Mr. Lemons said. “The IRS voluntarily gave TRAC an enormous amount of data beyond what we routinely release to the public, outside of the FOIA process.”

But he said TRAC shifted in June 2004 to seeking data monthly.

“These were much broader and sweeping requests than TRAC previously sought, with many of the requested data sets not normally gathered by the IRS” since it reorganized in 2000 from geographic divisions to taxpayer-category divisions.

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