In 10 out of 70 cases, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) improperly withheld information from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesters, according to a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
In the report, TIGTA says it conducted the review as they are required to conduct periodic audits, in order to determine whether the IRS handled written requests properly.
“The overall objective of this audit was to determine whether the IRS improperly withheld information requested by taxpayers in writing, based on FOIA exemption 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7) or I.R.C. § 6103, as well as cases in which the IRS replied that responsive records were not available.”
TIGTA reviewed a “statistically valid sample” of information requests. From a population of 2,693 FOIA information requests, they looked at 70 and found that in 10 (14.3 percent) of requests, disclosure specialists improperly withheld information.
According to the report, the IRS withheld publicly available information and information regarding taxpayers’ own cases, such as tax information and examination reports.
“Although the IRS properly released thousands of pages from these documents, taxpayer rights may have been violated because the IRS improperly withheld information from the requestors,” the report states. “When the sample results are projected to the population, approximately 385 FOIA information requests may have had information erroneously withheld.”
Additionally, auditors found sensitive taxpayer information had been inadvertently disclosed when the IRS responded to some FOIA requests.
“Disclosure specialists inadvertently disclosed sensitive taxpayer information in three responses to FOIA and I.R.C. § 6103 information requests,” the report reads. It goes on to say, “During our review for improper denials, we identified four requests for which information was inadvertently disclosed.”
Lastly, according to the report, at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the number of backlogged information requests numbered 334, a decrease of about 4 percent from the 348 requests left at the end of Fiscal Year 2015. “However, that is a reversal of the increase we identified over the previous four years,” the report states.
The IRS has said it will work towards improving its response to FOIA requests, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
“The IRS remains committed to openness in government to ensure public trust and to support the ideals of transparency, public participation and collaboration,” Edward Killen, chief privacy officer at the IRS, reportedly said. “We will continue to work towards further improving the processing of information requests in a timely and quality manner.”
On the positive side, TIGTA found that 69 of the 70 sampled FOIA requests — or 98.6-percent — were responded to in a timely manner.
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