Thursday, August 4, 2022

IRS Didn't Follow FOIA Rules In 16% of Denials

According to Law360The IRS Disclosure Office didn't follow Freedom of Information Act requirements in 16% of the requests the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration examined where the office partially or wholly denied a request because of an exemption, TIGTA said in a report.

The Disclosure Office partially or wholly denied information under that exemption in 3,188 requests in 2021 all told, TIGTA said in the report, dated Thursday.

In May 2021, the IRS completed the transition of processing cases from the Automated Freedom of Information Act System to FOIAXpress. TIGTA reviewed a statistical sample of 83 of the 3,188 Fiscal Year 2021 FOIA requests for which the IRS denied the requested information either partially or fully based on exemption (b)(7), replied that no responsive records were available, or closed the request as imperfect. 

TIGTA also reviewed all 34 Fiscal Year 2021 I.R.C. § 6103(c) and (e) requests documented in FOIAXpress for which the IRS withheld information from the requestor. While TIGTA determined that information was properly withheld or released in most cases, the Disclosure Office did not follow FOIA requirements when withholding or releasing information for 13 (16 percent) cases. The Disclosure Office properly processed all 34 I.R.C. § 6103(c) and (e) requests. 

FOIA requests may involve the review of thousands of pages of information. For example, the partially denied cases in our sample ranged from four pages to 14,573 pages. Because a disclosure caseworker may make countless decisions when working a case, human error is unavoidable, and the IRS has taken steps to mitigate the risks associated with it. 

However, five of the 13 exception cases involved the improper release or redaction of third-party information. Without more specific guidance, disclosure caseworkers could inaccurately redact or release third-party information, such as releasing information obtained from services not available to the general public.

In recent years, cases involving errors in processing I.R.C. § 6103(c) and (e) requests have remained low, and the percentage of cases involving improper FOIA withholdings remained consistent compared with last year. 

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