Tax Analysts v. Internal Revenue Service

08/16/2013 09:01 am ET | Updated Oct 16, 2013

About a week ago I wrote a post, which noted that although Tax Analysts has been involved in various litigation with the IRS for more than 40 years, we were not founded to sue the IRS. Well, we just sued the IRS. Hypocritical? Not at all.

As I stated in that post, Tax Analysts has always worked hard to convince the IRS that transparency is vital to ensuring that application of the tax laws is fair, efficient and even-handed. In addition to that, Tax Analysts was founded to foster informed debate. But, you can't have a fully informed debate about the tax system if the government hides information.

Over the years, the IRS has had trouble with transparency. Because of that, Tax Analysts has had to rely on the Freedom of Information Act and the courts to get the IRS to do the right thing. That's what happened this week.

Here's the background: On May 21, Tax Analysts sent a FOIA request to the IRS seeking all materials used since 2009 to train IRS personnel in the IRS exempt organizations determinations office in Cincinnati. I'm guessing that there is probably no one who doesn't know that the IRS is currently under huge scrutiny for how it handles - or mishandles - applications for tax exempt status. This is not just a big story for Tax Analysts but for a lot of other news organizations as well. We asked the IRS to expedite the process and it agreed, telling us that our request had "priority" and that it would "make every effort to respond as quickly as possible." But on June 25, the IRS invoked a 10-day extension period, which extended the deadline to July 10. But in the same letter, the IRS also told us it wouldn't be meeting that deadline either, and unilaterally extended the response date to August 9.

Now, as the saying goes, this isn't the first time Tax Analysts has been to this rodeo. Once we got the June 25 letter we had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Still, we tried to work with the IRS to help it at least meet the August 9 deadline. But on August 9, the IRS sent us a letter saying it would get back to us on September 20 to let us know what it was going to do next. You can imagine what I think that September 20 letter was going to say.

So, once again, we are asking a federal court to help the IRS find the key to its document locker. The American people need to know what the IRS is doing in the exemption area, and they need to know now. Ironically, in my opinion, a large reason the IRS is in the current trouble that it's in is because it was playing its old, familiar, and apparently favorite, game of hide-the-ball. And it was playing that game with the United States Congress.

I'm not trying to make a joke here. The last time Tax Analysts sued the IRS was about eight years ago. Further, I'm on record for often defending the IRS, but I see no defense here. As I stated in the press release Tax Analysts put out this week, "Clearly, we do not view our action here lightly. But this is important information, and the press and the public have the right to this information and to get it in a timely fashion." As I said, Tax Analysts was founded to foster informed debate.

I also stated in the press release: "Apparently, and unfortunately, the greater the public interest, the more difficult it is to get expedited treatment to a request for information. That is not how this is supposed to work."

Christopher E. Bergin is president and publisher at Tax Analysts.