My IRS: A long distance romance

MORE, PLEASE: The IRS wants more time to fulfill our request for public records.

By Mark Lisheron |

My Internal Revenue Service got back to me over the Christmas holiday, begging my pardon and assuring me they were still very much on the job.

Denise Higley, the tax law specialist in the IRS Headquarters Disclosure Office who sent me the polite missive, needn’t have worried. How could I not have been aware of just how busy everyone at my IRS has been?

It is no mean feat for an agency of that size and importance in just six months to change a culture of harassment of political enemies to one of marginalizing political enemies through rulemaking.

By my IRS did it, created a whole raft of new rules to serve as “a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations,” as Mark Mazur, Treasury assistant secretary for tax policy, said back in November.

Some Grumpy Guses groused that by tax-exempt social welfare organizations my IRS meant those tea party groups the Department of the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration so cruelly accused the IRS of picking on in the first place.

MORE, PLEASE: The IRS wants more time to fulfill our request for public records.

By that time, hadn’t Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt organizations division, already apologized — sort of? Anyway, this wasn’t conspiring in some quinoa and kale filled back room in Cincinnati to make the lives of conservative group members a living hell.

These were rules, developed by the helpful public servants of my IRS, blessedly untainted by congressional meddling and backed by Mazur himself to “ensure that the standards for tax-exemption are clear and can be applied consistently.”

Carrying around this heavy national burden of standards, clarity, consistency and just plain fairness, it’s a wonder my IRS had time to get back to me at all. But, I guess, with all honorable public service agencies, a promise is a promise.

You see, back on Aug. 21 of last year I made a Freedom of Information Act request for a certain body of communication between my IRS and the U.S. Department of Labor. I hesitate to be more specific lest I tip off competitors, although I’m pretty sure the legacy media would ignore the story anyway. You will have to trust me when I say my request for information was exceedingly modest.

Unlike many other federal agencies that encourage FOIA requests by e-mail, my IRS — in the collegial spirit of supporting a struggling fellow agency — insisted I put my request in writing and send it directly to my friends in their Exempt Organizations Division through the U.S. Postal Service.

Specialist Higley said my request got to the FOIA group of the Disclosure Office on Aug. 27, according to her letter dated Sept. 23. Higley had made full use of the 20 business days allowed by law to tell me it had been impossible for her to fulfill my request in the 20 business days allowed by law.

That being the case, Higley said in her letter, I had a choice. I could agree to grant my IRS an extension that would allow her until Dec. 20 to supply the public information to which I was entitled.

Or I could sue the Internal Revenue Service.

I think it bears pointing out at this juncture that Higley’s September letter was every bit as polite and apologetic as her December letter.

Needless to say, being in the employ of a small, scrappy, idealistic news organization of generous, but limited resources, I did not file suit.

A full 10 days before her time was up, specialist Higley wrote again. No, she was not able within the extension I granted her to free my information, she said. More time was necessary, she said. Please expect to hear from her by March 20 if by that time she is still unable to complete my request, she said.

My IRS is going to have its hands full in 2014, waging a courageous and grueling battle to get those new and wholly impartial rules enacted in time for the tax season. April 15, that most unforgiving of American deadlines, always comes too soon, and you know what sticklers for the law my IRS is.

But make no mistake. My IRS will not have forgotten me. I fully expect to hear from specialist Higley sometime around March 10. She’ll explain that she hasn’t been able to complete my request. She will promise to get in touch by June 20 if she can’t come through for me by then.

The letter will be everything I’ve come to expect from my IRS. By the book. Apologetic. And so very polite.

Contact Mark Lisheron at

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