Tea Party controversy increases IRS FOIA backlog

The IRS backlog for freedom of information requests grew rapidly as the agency was dealing with its Tea Party controversy, according to a new federal audit.

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Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration said in its new report that 217 information requests were stalled at the end of the 2013 fiscal year – an 84 percent increase over the 118 requests backlogged at the end of 2012.

Requests dealing with the agency’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status drove the backlog, the inspector general said. The agency had reduced the number of stalled requests between 2009 and 2012.

Those findings were released as part of a broader examination of the IRS’s record in dealing with freedom of information requests, which found some bright spots and some problem areas.

The inspector general found that, in seven of the 62 cases it looked at, the IRS potentially infringed on taxpayer rights by either withholding information or not looking hard enough for it. Those findings suggest that the IRS wrongly withheld information in around 336 of the 2,973 freedom of information requests it closed in fiscal 2013.

The agency also unintentionally released taxpayer data in roughly one in five of those 62 cases. Among other criticisms, Republicans investigating the IRS have called out the agency for putting taxpayer information at risk.

But even with the increased backlog, the inspector general found that the agency responded quickly to all 62 freedom of information requests it examined. Agencies generally have 20 days to respond to a request.