IRS Training Guidance Doesn’t Appear to Have a Smoking Gun

Susan Walsh/AP File Photo

After an eight-month legal tug-of-war, the Internal Revenue Service released a large batch of training documents used by its Exempt Organizations Division in the lead-up to the controversial extra scrutiny applied to largely conservative applicants for tax-exempt status, the nonprofit publisher Tax Analysts announced on Friday.

The 1,200 pages from 2009 turned over to the publication on Jan. 15 were first requested under the Freedom of Information Act in May. Delays from the agency prompted Tax Analysts in August to file a lawsuit. The new batch adds to the 1,000 pages released in September and 1,800 pages turned over in November.

IRS officials had pointed out that staff have been swamped handling demands for documents by the several congressional committees probing charges that the IRS had showed political favoritism in subjecting mostly Tea Party-type groups to delays and extra paperwork.

The internal staff materials consist of student guides for exempt organizations determinations; learning objectives and  course  requirements; sample case processing  forms for exemption applications; teaching materials and objectives for instruction on section 501(c)(4) organizations; definitions of relevant EO [exempt organizations] measurement terms such as “solely”  and “primarily” and their corresponding activity percentages; and training  materials for EO determinations specialists.

The words “solely” and “primarily” are important because the IRS was reviewing applications for tax exemptions under a decades-old Treasury Department regulation designed to help officials determine whether applying organizations spend the bulk of their time and resources on politics as opposed to social welfare.

Though the publisher has shared the raw documents with its readers, its reporters and analysts have not yet reached conclusions on their significance, Christopher Bergin, Tax Analysts president and  publisher, told Government Executive. The collection, however, appears incomplete, he added.

“If anyone’s looking for a scandal, I don’t think they will find it in the documents we have here,” he said. “These are training materials, which you would think, as a matter of course, would be public. The fact that it took eight months, a lawsuit and a court order to get what we have thus far,” he added, “really tells you the IRS still hasn’t figured out how to deal with its problems.” 

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