This article first appeared in the June 24, 2015 edition of Tax Notes Today.
Tax Analysts filed suit against the IRS on June 23, asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel the agency to release records of bonus awards it paid to high-level executives since 2010.
Tax Analysts originally requested the bonus awards records in early February through a Freedom of Information Act filing, but the IRS has not said when or whether it would comply with the request.
"It's déjà vu all over again," said Tax Analysts President and Publisher Christopher Bergin. "We've been at this game a long time. They've delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed, and they will continue to delay. And we think this is important information to keep them transparent and to keep them accountable.
"We have no agenda other than transparency," Bergin said. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant. If there's something wrong, sunshine will help fix it."
Asked for a comment on the suit, an IRS spokesman said, "The IRS doesn't comment on pending litigation."
Bonus Records Relevancy
"In recent years there has been a public debate in Congress and elsewhere about the IRS's effectiveness in carrying out its mission, consistent with budget constraints on the IRS and federal agencies generally," the lawsuit says.
"One way to consider that issue is to examine information on the way the IRS rewards senior personnel with bonuses for superior job performance," the suit says. "This information can shed light on what issues the IRS deems particularly significant or difficult, among other reasons."
Tax Analysts filed its FOIA request on February 2 asking for records of bonuses awarded to members of the IRS Senior Executive Service and to non-bargaining unit managers (GS-15 and above) employed in the Office of Chief Counsel, whether in Washington or in the field, from January 1, 2010, to the present.
The IRS replied in a letter dated February 27 that it wouldn't be able to meet its statutory 20-business-day deadline to respond (March 3), but that it anticipated a June 3 reply.
On June 1 the IRS said in another letter that it was still working on the request and needed more time. The Service did not specify a response date, saying only that the agency would contact Tax Analysts by August 17 if it was still unable to complete the request.
Tax Analysts offered to discuss ways to complete the request. The suit notes that similar discussions in the past have helped prioritize information that could readily be provided, limited requests to make them more manageable, and speeded up the process for both the IRS and the requester.
The IRS has not yet responded to that offer.
Tax Analysts asked that the court declare as unlawful the IRS's failure to disclose the records, preliminarily and permanently enjoin the IRS from withholding the records, award Tax Analysts' costs and reasonable attorney fees, and grant other relief the court finds just and equitable.