UPI’s Peter Roff on Congressional Access to Tax Returns: What Really Happened

UPI has a wire story today by Peter Roff providing additional details on the Congressional access to tax returns story. An excerpt:

What actually happened, said one source with knowledge of the back story, is that the amendment was an effort to give appropriators and staff with oversight of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service the ability to make on-site visits to check out how the money they approve each year for the agency is being spent. The problem with making that kind of visit to an IRS facility is that one could potentially encounter one — a few, dozens, stacks, truckloads — of tax returns that, to understate things a bit, the federal government takes great pains to protect from public scrutiny and prying eyes.

There are folks over at the House Ways and Means Committee, which has administrative oversight of the IRS as well as the U.S. tax system, who can go visit these sites because of an existing provision in U.S. law — a provision that Appropriations Committee staff working with the IRS were trying to get for themselves. And that’s where it all comes apart.

The committee staff, according to the source, left it to the IRS to draft the language and then inserted the amendment into the bill without too much consideration and without the knowledge of U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., the chairman of the IRS-overseeing Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Transportation and Independent Agencies.

What the bureaucrats who drafted the measure forgot to do was include language extending to the Appropriations Committee types the same kind of exceptionally tough privacy safeguards — including rigid consequences like possible jail time for those who do not respect the privacy protections — under which the Ways and Committee folks have to operate…

The provision, as has been well-reported, is being struck from the bill in any case. But one can’t help but wish that some of the details in this story and the similar AP wire story running today — which could have been ascertained by making a few phone calls — had been learned before some politicians in both parties went before microphones and claimed that something far more sinister was afoot.

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