Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Renegade IRS to Tax Researcher: Drop Dead

As mentioned in my previous post on this subject, the IRS has been violating a nearly 30-year old court order to release information under FOIA. Well what does it matter if a University researcher doesn't get a little data? A lot, according to David Cay Johnston in an article in today's New York Times:

Much of what the public knows about the efficiency, effectiveness and evenhandedness of the revenue service and other big federal agencies is based on the figures that Professor Long collects and posts.


The article goes on to describe how the IRS pleads ignorance but still plans to break the law in defiance of all three branches of government.

The senior national spokesman for the tax agency, Frank Keith, wrote to Professor Long in June 2004 that he had lawyers examine her assertion that the agency was required to provide the data. After extensive research, Mr. Keith wrote, the lawyers concluded that no court order existed and that "accordingly, the I.R.S. is not in violation of any standing injunctions."

Professor Long responded by sending Mr. Keith a copy of the order. Mr. Keith said no one now at the agency was aware of it.

"We thought we were providing this information voluntarily," he said.


OK they didn't know. Makes them look a little foolish, but let's allow that mistakes happen. Now that they know, they'll fix it, right?

The agency has no plans to release the information, Mr. Keith said Friday. He argued that Professor Long's latest requests went far beyond the order, covering costly detailed information that could inadvertently allow the identification of specific taxpayers.

Professor Long said that was false. "There is no change in what we have asked for, and they know it," she said.


Got that? First they didn't know there was a court order. Now that they know, they've decided that, in spite of a U.S. Federal Court Order and a 29 year history of providing this information, it just costs too much. And of course, there's no indication that the President has given them license to stonewall and violate the law. After all,

President Bush signed an executive order last month "to ensure appropriate agency disclosure of information." In a meeting with newspaper editors last April, the president said, "The presumption ought to be that citizens ought to know as much as possible about the government decision making."


So to recap: we have a Federal Agency knowingly violating a law passed by Congress, defying a court order issued by the Federal Judiciary and operating in defiance of a signed Executive Order.

If our system of checks and balances continues to degrade, then I believe this kind of out of control behavior by our government is likely to become more and more common. If we ever find out about it.

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