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Is the IRS Overworked?

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Susan Walsh/AP file photo

Given the heavy schedule of hearings and millions of documents Congress has demanded from the Internal Revenue Service this year, it should come as no surprise that the agency is showing signs of being overstretched.

A glimpse inside comes from Tax Analysts, the Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit publisher that sued the IRS under the Freedom of Information Act this summer to extract training documents that could shed light on the agency’s scandal-prone handling of exempt-status applications mostly from tea party groups.

Christopher Bergen, the publisher’s president, devoted his blog Wednesday to reasons for what he calls the IRS’ “big stall” in turning over all of the documents that Tax Analysts -- well versed in FOIA tactics -- feels entitled to. “Granted, the IRS released some documents that were essentially no help in figuring out what went on and almost all were dated 2012,” he wrote. “I believe the revealing material -- good or bad -- would be dated between 2009 and 2012.”

IRS officials, exhibiting “darned peculiar behavior” in their back and forth with the publisher over why mere training documents are slow in coming, offered explanations Bergen paraphrases as follows:

  • We are being investigated by several government agencies and congressional committees;
  • We have to deal with more than 70 formal congressional requests, and you’ll just have to wait until we do that. And besides, the Senate Finance Committee asked for the training materials before you did;
  • We have to make sure that the information you requested doesn’t contain taxpayer information protected by section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code;
  • We are working hard on these requests and at one point had more than 100 lawyers from the IRS Office of Chief Counsel assigned to them.

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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