Withholding of IRS Data Makes Meaningful Report on Individual Audits Impossible

TRAC's 2008 report does not examine IRS efforts to audit individual taxpayers. This is because, as described in "About the Data," the IRS has ignored federal court orders obtained by TRAC's co-director Susan Long requiring the release of AIMS data on IRS audits.

While the court orders required release of audit statistics on three IRS divisions, information about audits conducted by the division responsible for auditing most individual tax returns filed by individuals — the IRS's Wage and Investment (W&I) Division — is continuing to be withheld in defiance of the court orders.

Professor Long returned to court February 11 seeking the W&I audit inventory statistics the agency had already been ordered to release. In addition, she asked the court to order the IRS to turn over two additional monthly internal AIMS report series which provide even greater detail on W&I audits.

In another complication, the IRS recently changed how it categorizes individual taxpayers for the limited statistics on individual audits it does release. This change means that the data for FY 2007 are no longer comparable to the data it published in FY 2006 or earlier years — data which permitted comparisons extending back for over a quarter of a century. TRAC has asked the IRS about the availability of more detailed data that the agency appears to have prepared internally that would allow such comparisons to continue to be made. The IRS has not replied to TRAC's request.

The new categories the IRS says its uses do not break taxpayers down by their income levels except for those making $200,000 and above. Since less that 3% of taxpayers make $200,000 and above, over 97% of taxpayers remain unclassified. Thus it is no longer possible to compute what the chances of audit are for low versus middle income taxpayers, or between middle and high income taxpayers, even at a national level. And since the IRS didn't previously release data separating out audit results for taxpayers at the $200,000 and above income level until recently, it also is not even possible to compare high income audits reliably over any period of time.

TRAC has therefore been forced to defer analyses of IRS current audit practices with respect to individuals until we are successful in getting the IRS to provide more detailed information.