Denial of Probe Into IRS Disclosure ‘Alarming,’Group Says

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By Allyson Versprille

Oct. 20 — The dismissal of an investigation into the IRS’s disclosure of protected taxpayer information by a government watchdog is “alarming,” a conservative group said.

The Cause of Action Institute in June asked the Department of Justice Inspector General and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to “examine potential legal violations arising from the October 2010 disclosure of more than one million pages of tax returns and return information to the FBI and DOJ Public Integrity Section by” the Internal Revenue Service and former agency official Lois Lerner, the group said in an Oct. 20 news release.

As part of the request, the institute asked that the DOJ watchdog examine whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation and DOJ employees violated taxpayer confidentiality laws by inspecting the disclosed data.

The DOJ Inspector General responded in an Oct. 12 letter signed by Daniel C. Beckhard, assistant inspector general for the Oversight and Review Division. It appeared that some protected taxpayer information was included on compact discs that the IRS provided to the department, the inspector general said, but when the department learned of that disclosure, it returned the CDs to the IRS and informed Congress.

“Given the absence of available information suggesting that Department employees over whom our Office has jurisdiction might have engaged in conduct that violates laws, regulations, or policy, we have determined that this matter does not warrant further investigation,” Beckhard said in the letter, which was attached to the CoA Institute’s news release.

The CoA Institute said it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DOJ watchdog to “determine the exact nature of its notification to Congress.”

Ryan Mulvey, counsel at Cause of Action, said, “We’re interested to see what exactly they told Congress and whether it corresponds with what we know to have already been publicly released about this incident in the past.”

‘Even More Alarming.’

“The DOJ IG’s response is concerning,” said John J. Vecchione, vice president at the CoA Institute. “While admitting that the IRS did, in fact, disclose confidential taxpayer information, the IG failed to address the absence of any proper requests for disclosure from the DOJ,” he said.

“Even more alarming, the IG refused to conduct an investigation into legal violations because of the ‘absence of available information,’ ” Vecchione said.

The inspector general didn’t respond to requests for comment before deadline.

The CoA Institute hasn’t publicly announced plans to pursue further action with the IG’s office, and the group is still waiting on TIGTA to reply to the June request, Mulvey said.

It’s likely that TIGTA will provide a similar response as the DOJ Inspector General, he said. And even if the Treasury’s tax watchdog does pursue an investigation into whether former or current employees at the IRS violated the law in disclosing this information to DOJ, it only has jurisdiction over Treasury Department and IRS employees, Mulvey said.

That’s “part of the reason why the DOJ IG response is so unfortunate,” Mulvey said. Cause of Action is concerned that those who participated in the incident won’t be held accountable, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the CoA Institute letter is at http://src.bna.com/jwQ.

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