President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats have moved to beef up the Internal Revenue Service with tens of billions more in funding and tens of thousands of additional agents, ostensibly to crack down on wealthy tax cheats — a move that has been sharply criticized by Republicans and independents as being actually targeted at the middle class and small businesses.
The political center and right are correct to be wary of a larger and more empowered IRS, particularly in light of its recent admission that it “mistakenly” published confidential information about around 120,000 taxpayers, Bloomberg News reported.
The supposed erroneous publishing of confidential taxpayer information has since been caught and taken down from the agency’s website, and Congress has been appropriately notified after the fact, but it is unclear how long that confidential information had been made available to the general public.
Congress notified of inadvertent disclosure
At issue here, according to Bloomberg, is confidential taxpayer information contained on a particular IRS form — Form 990-T — that is commonly used by tax-exempt organizations as well as certain individuals who derive income from individual retirement accounts, and while the forms for the organizations are generally made public to an extent, the forms for individuals are supposed to remain confidential.
What was publicly disclosed in this case were the names and contact information of individuals with IRAs who filed a 990-T form, per the IRS, but the inadvertent disclosure did not include sensitive information like Social Security numbers, detailed financial and income figures, or other information that could damage an individual’s credit rating.
“The IRS is continuing to review this situation,” Treasury Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Management Anna Canfield Roth said in a letter to Congress to advise them of the issue, according to Bloomberg. “The Treasury Department has instructed the IRS to conduct a prompt review of its practices to ensure necessary protections are in place to prevent unauthorized data disclosures.”
IRS took “immediate steps” to fix the problem
National Review reported that IRS officials asserted that the mistaken disclosure of the otherwise confidential information was due to a human error in coding when the 990-T forms were filed last year that resulted in the forms for individuals with IRAs being uploaded for public view on the IRS website along with the forms for tax-exempt organizations.
Once that mistake had been discovered in recent weeks, “immediate steps” were taken to correct the issue and Congres was notified, though, again, it remains unknown exactly how long that confidential information had been publicly available before it was noticed and addressed.
“The IRS took immediate steps to address this issue,” the agency said in a statement provided to Fox Business. “The files have been removed from IRS.gov and will be replaced with updated files in the near future.”
“In addition,” the agency added, “the IRS also will be working with groups that routinely use the files to remove the erroneous files and replace them with the correct versions as they become available.”
Concerns about the IRS are justified
The current mea culpa from the IRS is cold comfort for those who remain highly concerned about the plans to further expand and empower that agency with more funding and employees, given that this is far from the first time that supposedly confidential taxpayer information has been “mistakenly” disclosed or, even worse, leaked to the media for partisan purposes.
Furthermore, there are documented historic examples of the IRS being politicized and weaponized for partisan purposes — the Obama-era IRS targeting conservative non-profit groups is just one such instance — that justify such concerns, and while this latest incident may not fall under that category, it is still a problem that needs to be addressed with actual accountability for whoever is responsible.