IRS Employee Breaks Protocol and it's Still Considered News

Today the IRS released a statement addressing a situation involving improper use of confidential information by an IRS employee.  One rogue employee took home an unencrypted flash drive containing “employee-related information” that dates back to 2007.  Typically this type of problem would be discovered by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and released in one of their famous audit reports.  However, this particular incident was identified by the IRS which preemptively released its statement via their own “newsroom” today.

One news source cited the commissioner as saying that the incident did not involve any taxpayer information.  This would have been a humorous gaff, had he actually said this.  Humorous because even if the information that was put at risk belonged to former or present IRS employees, wouldn’t it also be taxpayer information?  The last time I checked, IRS employees have to pay taxes too.  But I think this was a bad job of paraphrasing.  Put back into context, the statement reads a little differently.  According to the prepared statement, the information “included IRS employee-related information and not general taxpayer information or records.”  Even though the difference in wording is very slight, it makes quite a difference in meaning.

According to the statement, this was an “isolated instance,” and inappropriate use of this information “could not occur in today’s environment.”  Mmm-Hmmm…

The IRS Book of Numbers

Nowhere else will you ever see as many “millions,” “billions,” and “trillions” than in the Annual IRS Data Book.  The 2011 IRS Data Book was released this week and, once again, it is teeming with large, almost incomprehensible numbers; just the kind of thing that makes a tax attorney smile.

The Data Book is the number one source for statistics related to return filing, refunds, revenue collected, enforcement, taxpayer assistance, IRS budget, and IRS workforce.  Here is a small sampling of some of the huge numbers reported in the 2011 Data Book:

  • IRS collected $2.4 trillion in 2011
  • IRS processed over 234 million tax returns
  • Taxpayers filed more than 133 million returns electronically (77% of all individual returns)
  • IRS paid almost $338 billion in refunds
  • IRS examined 1.1 percent of all individual income tax returns
  • IRS examined 1.5 percent of all corporate income tax returns
  • 319 million visits to for taxpayer assistance
  • 83 million walk-ins and phone calls for taxpayer assistance

If you’ve never seen the annual data book, it may be worth your time to take a look.  It is interesting to see the progression of total revenue collected year-by-year beginning in 1960, or compare revenue collected by state or by type of tax.  Just don’t inadvertently hit your print button because everything about the publication is huge, including the page count — 74