IRS Finally Releases Audit Data to TRAC
October 9, 2008 — After flouting a series of court orders for over two years, the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday turned over to TRAC thousands of pages of agency statistics on audits of all types, including individual, corporate, partnership and S corporation audits.
A strongly worded June 13, 2008 ruling issued by Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington mandated that the data requested under the Freedom of Information Act be turned over to TRAC, as specified in two court orders issued against the agency in 2006. However, rather than release the information as directed by the Court, the IRS instead filed a motion for a stay pending an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals.
In denying this motion for a stay, Judge Pechman wrote that "Defendant has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, and [...] enforcement of the Court's June 13, 2008 order will not cause irreparable harm to any party or increase the burden on the IRS and does not impact the public interest."
Despite this ruling, and despite explicit instructions from the Court directing the IRS to immediately comply with the instructions set forth in the June 13, 2008 order, the IRS submitted a second motion for a stay. The denial of this second motion for a stay included the observation that the "Defendant has repeatedly defied this Court's orders" and instructed the IRS yet again to comply with the June 13, 2008 order.
Scott L. Nelson, TRAC's lead attorney in this case, detailed in an October 6 letter to the Ninth Circuit why the Court should not expedite consideration of the IRS' appeal. The next day, the IRS abandoned its request for an expedited ruling, and turned over the requested data to TRAC. The IRS has not however withdrawn its motion for a stay.
For more than 30 years, TRAC co-director Susan B. Long has used the IRS's own statistical data to examine how this powerful agency has been enforcing the nation's tax laws. The Syracuse University professor at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management first won access to IRS data on audit, collection and other enforcement activities in a 1976 consent agreement issued by Judge Walter McGovern of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Washington.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) is a data-research organization affiliated with both Whitman and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. TRAC has provided the public with numerous special reports and detailed information about the operations of scores of federal agencies, including the IRS.
Scott Nelson with the Public Citizen Litigation Group and Eric M. Stahl with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle, Wash. have been representing TRAC on a pro bono basis in this filing.
Public Citizen has litigated more than 300 cases under FOIA in the past 35 years, winning most of them and forcing government agencies to disclose information that is gathered at taxpayer expense and that allows the public to exercise needed oversight of the government.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.