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IRS Criticised Over Missing Taxpayer Casefiles

by Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.com, Washington

16 October 2007


The US Internal Revenue Service has come in for some severe criticism from senior Senators after a recent study found that the agency was unable to locate almost one in five requested taxpayer files.

In a study requested by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus as part of the Finance Committee’s oversight of the IRS, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the IRS lacks an effective process to find paper case files, and then fails to track whether requested case files are located in a timely manner, or document the reasons when they cannot be found.

Baucus argued that missing case files hamper the IRS’s ability to assist taxpayers, impede enforcement efforts, and increase the risk of unauthorized use of private taxpayer information.

“The IRS’s case files contain confidential information that taxpayers have a right to expect is stored safe and sound,” stated Baucus. “When these files are lost, taxpayers face increased burdens to sort out their tax matters and may be put at risk of identity theft. Efficient tax administration requires that the IRS follow GAO’s recommendations to increase file security and establish reliable storage practices.”

In a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) audit that called for a random sample of tax records, the IRS could not locate 19% of the requested case files. Lack of staff accountability for file maintenance, misplaced files, and files sent to the wrong locations were found to be the main reasons for the IRS’s problems.

For more efficient file management, the GAO has recommended that the IRS comply with the Federal Records Act, track the number of missing files, and ensure that case file performance is monitored across the IRS.

Commenting on the findings of the reports, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, suggested that their conclusions are "very troubling".

"The GAO and TIGTA are finding that the IRS cannot locate between 10 percent and 19 percent of paper files that are requested. The inability to find paper case files translates into lost revenue, increased taxpayer burden and limits the IRS’s work. This is not a new problem. The GAO's findings should be an embarrassment to the agency," he remarked.

Grassley went on to contend that the findings strengthen the case for a continuation of the private tax debt collection project, following a vote in the House of Representatives last week in favour of bringing the project back in-house with the IRS.

"Time and time again, we heard on the House floor lawmakers say no private contractor could match the IRS’ work. Where are those lawmakers now to defend an IRS that the GAO found lost more than $40,000 in revenue in each of several cases alone because it could not locate the case file?" he asked.

"If the tables were turned, and it was the taxpayer losing his records, the IRS would have zero tolerance. When it’s the IRS losing taxpayer records, it appears to be just another day at the office. If this is indicative of business as usual, we might need more private contractors, not less," Grassley concluded.


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