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Pretext The IRS–Sometimes No Need

Posted by Bill on December 19, 2007

irs   The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has article today about IRS employees accessing confidential taxpayer information without authority WSJ Article.  When this happens the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), TIGTA, investigates sort of like the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) on Law & Order.  Anyway, the incidents of IRS employees accessing taxpayer information without authorization increased from 448 in 2007 to 521 for fiscal year ending 2007.  Accessing taxpayer information without authority is strictly prohibited by the IRS and it is against the law. 

The WSJ says, “Over the past decade, Treasury investigators have opened more than 4,700 investigations. As a result, there have been 1,205 cases in which workers have been disciplined, and there have been 176 “successful prosecutions.”  Ummm, 176 successful prosecutions out of 4,700 investigations?  But, I digress. 

WSJ says that IRS employees accessed information for various reasons, including peeping at tax records of an ex-spouse, a neighbor, someone with whom they’re having an affair or a celebrity. But in some cases, the motives are more complex. 

WSJ says, “One case involved Josa’lyn Johnson, who worked as a tax-examining clerk at the IRS’s Philadelphia Service Center. The government said she disclosed confidential information, such as Social Security numbers, birth dates and bank-account information, of at least 24 individuals to someone outside the IRS — and was paid about $1,500 for the information.  She entered a guilty plea last summer to unauthorized disclosure of tax-return information and exceeding authorized access of a government computer, says her lawyer, Michael Engle.  Her sentence included three years’ probation, a $1,000 fine and a $200 special assessment.”

In a prior post, Here, I wrote about the pretexting individuals, 10 people, who were indicted by the Department of Justice for getting confidential tax information from the IRS.  TIGTA Special Agent in Charge,  Terry K. Peacock said in the U.S. Attorney’s press release:  “Citizens have the right to expect that their private information will be kept private, especially when it’s in the hands of the US Government.”  Now, says J. Russell George, the agency’s inspector general states in the Wall Street Journal article, “Taxpayers depend on a tax system that protects the confidentiality of the information they provide to the IRS. These cases can impact the integrity of the entire tax system.”  Of course, I agree. 

We may conclude from this WSJ article and the pretexting indictments, that there are far more internal IRS illegal access to taxpayer information than from outside IRS, private individuals.  There is an old saying about “a few bad apples” spoiling the barrel.  My point is not all IRS employees are bad employee illegally accessing taxpayer information and not all information gatherers or private investigators are bad professionals illegally getting confidential taxpayer information from the IRS. 

Let’s not blame an industry or a federal agency for the bad acts of a few. 

Bill Lowrance

President PIAVA

president@piava.org

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