TRAC IRS Report
Data Expert Prevails in Lawsuit Against IRS Secrecy
IRS Must Abide by 1976 Agreement and Provide Performance Data by Tax Deadline
SEATTLE, WA – A federal court has ruled in favor of a widely recognized researcher seeking detailed statistics from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about how the agency enforces the nation’s tax laws. Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the IRS to turn over statistical data to Susan B. Long, a professor at Syracuse University and co-director of the non-profit research organization Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).
Long had sought monthly statistical reports from the IRS under the terms of a court order issued in 1976 in a case she filed to compel disclosure of IRS audit and examination data. After the 1976 court order, Long used IRS data to report on, and often criticize, the IRS’s performance for nearly 30 years. In mid-2004, however, the agency stopped complying with the longstanding court order and refused to disclose the information. Long returned to court in January 2006, represented by Scott Nelson, with Public Citizen in Washington, D.C., and Eric M. Stahl and Michele Earl-Hubbard with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle.
Pechman ruled Monday that the 1976 order remains enforceable and that IRS claims that producing the data it regularly compiles would be burdensome are unsupported. The court rejected the IRS’s argument that the production of statistical data would violate a statute prohibiting public release of tax return information about individual taxpayers, because there was no evidence that the statistics could be used to identify any taxpayer. The ruling stated that, “[b]ecause Ms. Long seeks to disseminate the information sought in this proceeding to the public, there would be a public benefit from disclosure of the records sought.” It also found that, “Ms. Long’s interest in this matter stretches back 30 years and has both public interest and scholarly components.”
Pechman ordered production of the requested reports within 14 days, placing the IRS under the same compliance deadline (April 17) that the rest of the nation faces for tax returns. The court also ruled that Long is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees for enforcing the order.