About the Data

IRS seeks expanded powers to bar public access to audit statistics in the future, even while it unlawfully withholds key data today

Do you think the public should be barred from future access to audit statistics used in this report? This is IRS's view. And on March 3 the agency filed suit against TRAC's co-director, Susan Long, seeking a court order to achieve that purpose.

But the agency didn't stop there. In addition, it asked the court to enter an order permanently prohibiting TRAC's co-director from even requesting any additional IRS audit statistics in the future. This Orwellian move was the latest chapter in IRS's continuing efforts to drastically limit public access to statistics about how this powerful agency goes about collecting taxes from the American people.

Standing in the way of IRS's effort to suppress the statistics about how it conducts the public's business is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and a series of court orders that TRAC's co-director, Susan Long, has secured against the agency's unlawful withholding. The earliest of these federal court orders was obtained over thirty years ago under the then new FOIA in response to a series of successful law suits that had been brought by Susan Long and her late husband, Philip Long.

At that time, even after the initial court rulings that IRS's withholding of audit and other statistics was unlawful, the agency continued to drag its feet. The IRS stuck to this position until its own lawyers in the Department of Justice refused to defend the agency's continued withholding and agreed to the entry of first one and then a second even broader consent order in Long v Internal Revenue Service, Civil No. C-74-724S (USDC, WD Wash). These two 1976 consent orders continue in force today and require the IRS to release, on the request of TRAC's co-director, voluminous statistical reports containing any "similar" data that the agency now prepares detailing agency activities.

Sample of heavily censored IRS report
In 2004, however, the flow of IRS data to TRAC stopped again. And TRAC's co-director was forced to return to court in Seattle to enforce the terms of her 1976 consent order. In twin rulings in April 2006 and August 2006 the federal court there ordered the IRS to comply with the original consent decrees and to release, on a continuing basis, a voluminous monthly internal report from IRS' Audit Information and Management System or AIMS. The 2006 court orders became final at the end of that year when the Solicitor General of the United States refused IRS's request to file an appeal.

While at this point the IRS did begin turning over some extremely useful data pursuant to the court orders, TRAC was forced to return to court on February 11, 2008 after we determined that IRS was still secretly withholding many thousands of pages from these reports, and after the required monthly production was falling farther and farther behind schedule. In addition, while the reports were first released without redactions and as digital files on CD, IRS switched to shipping boxes of heavily censored paper printouts (see sample page). Long's February 11 motion and IRS' counter motion to block her access to data in the future are now pending before Judge Marsha J. Pechman in the US District Court in the Western district of Washington (Seattle).