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IRS Must Be Held More Accountable For Data Breach

Many Americans are unhappy about the prospect of the Internal Revenue Service hiring tens of thousands of additional agents to enable the agency to audit a greater number of tax returns and, in the process, presumably, encourage more honest tax compliance.

Some unhappiness stems from the mere prospect of the tax agency seemingly acquiring more power, even if the concerned taxpayer never has cheated the federal treasury of any money that was due.

Some of the other unhappiness being vented originates with individuals and entities whose tax-paying honesty might be “iffy.”

Neither of those scenarios should evoke surprise, especially at this time when the federal government is the target of so much controversy, suspicion and conspiracy allegations.

Then there is the reality that the IRS, in the eyes of many Americans is far from the top of the list of most popular federal agencies. Yet, few people ponder how the country could exist without the funds that the IRS’ work helps generate.

Suffice to say every taxpayer committed to honesty at tax time should support whatever legal efforts are possible to catch up with those who are not.

Despite all of the above, the IRS is not beyond scrutiny and criticism when it makes a mistake or when something otherwise goes awry, such as failing to protect confidential taxpayer data.

In its Sept. 3-4 edition, the Wall Street Journal disclosed the tax agency had exposed some confidential data of about 120,000 individuals before discovering the error and removing the data from its website.

At the very least, the troubling situation sent a signal that the agency might need more backup oversight during the course of its day-to-day operations to detect problems so quickly that they result in little or no damage.

Another possibility might involve rearrangement of some responsibilities within the current staff structure to achieve that same result.

The IRS still has a backlog of work stemming from the pandemic, including processing of amended returns. There are reasonable grounds, then, for exercising a degree of understanding about a window for error within a work challenge of such behemoth scope.

However, this is where Congress needs to step up, examine what went wrong, and determine how lawmakers could help avert similar or new problems in the future.

According to the Journal report of earlier this month, the IRS and Treasury Department are blaming a human coding error that happened last year when Form 990-T began to be filed electronically.

Form 990-T is required in certain tax returns of people with individual retirement accounts who earn certain types of business income within those retirement plans.

The Journal report indicated that non-public information such as names, contact information and financial information was mistakenly included with public data, but Social Security numbers, full individual income information or other data that could affect a taxpayer’s credit were not.

Still, what occurred should not have happened and should not have a window for happening again. Having received notice of the problem on Sept. 2, Congress, in the days and weeks ahead, must look deeper into what occurred and why the unwanted window of opportunity was able to be present.

What occurred will have the ability to make even the most thorough, honest tax filers somewhat more edgy in the years ahead.

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