Judge orders IRS to turn over data
A federal judge has found the Internal Revenue Service in defiance of a 2006 court order telling it to turn over tax data to a researcher...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A federal judge has found the Internal Revenue Service in defiance of a 2006 court order telling it to turn over tax data to a researcher in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case that stretches back more than 30 years.
Researcher Susan Long has fought the IRS since she won an FOIA lawsuit against the agency while a graduate student at the University of Washington in 1976. At that time, a federal judge ordered the IRS to make certain tax-data tables available to Long.
After years of wrangling and sporadic compliance, Long returned to court in 2006 and obtained another order demanding the IRS turn over the information. At the time, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman awarded Long more than $45,000 in attorneys fees.
But the IRS still has not complied, and the agency petitioned the court to have the 1976 order changed so it would not have to turn over some of the information.
IRS attorneys argued that the agency no longer compiles the data tables Long originally wanted, and that turning over the present-day equivalent of that information could identify individual taxpayers.
Pechman, in an order Friday, told the IRS that it is "not in a position to request modification of any order when not currently in compliance with an order of this court." The judge ordered the agency to, within 30 days, turn the data over to Long and then keep giving it to her every month, regardless of the form it comes in.
A request for comment left for an IRS attorney in Washington, D.C., was not returned Monday.
Long is now a professor at Syracuse University in New York and the co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a data-research group at Syracuse that uses the FOIA to obtain and track data from federal-enforcement agencies.
Popular with researchers and journalists, TRAC uses the data it gathers to "provide the American people ... with comprehensive information about staffing, spending and enforcement activities of the federal government," according to its Web site.
For example, one of its most recent reports on the IRS shows the audit rate for the nation's largest corporations dropped to its lowest level in the past 20 years during fiscal year 2007.
TRAC co-founder David Burnham, an investigative writer and former reporter at The New York Times, said the judge's ruling "requires the IRS to provide TRAC several new very significant agency-statistical tables."
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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