Judge Orders IRS to Deliver Documents

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Internal Revenue Service has to deliver nine electronic documents the nonprofit Public.Resource.org sought in a Freedom of Information Act request, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
     Public.Resource.org makes government information easily accessible to the public. It sued the IRS in 2013 after the agency refused to provide electronically filed documents for nine tax-exempt organizations.
     Public.Resource.org wanted the organizations’ Form 990s, which show the organizations’ mission, programs and finances. It asked for the forms in their original format, a modernized efile (MeF).
     But the IRS wouldn’t release the documents in that format. The agency said that because an MeF file includes confidential information, agency procedure is to convert the file into a PDF and withhold the confidential information.
     There’s no simple way to redact information in MeF format, and to do so would cost the IRS $6,200 in training and other costs, the agency claimed. It said that would impose a significant burden on the IRS, which is still operating under a “sequestration-level” budget.
     U.S. District Judge William Orrick was not persuaded. In granting summary judgment, he wrote: “The fact that an agency may be under significant financial distress because it is underfunded does not excuse an agency’s duty to comply with the FOIA.”
     Orrick found no evidence that the IRS will be “significantly burdened” by fulfilling the request for nine documents.
     “That the IRS will have to develop new protocols and train staff to respond to Public.Resource.org’s request does not somehow excuse its need to comply with E-FOIA,” Orrick wrote. “If that was a valid excuse, anytime there was a request for production in a format the agency has not accommodated before, the agency could argue undue burden.”
     He gave the IRS 60 days to give Public.Resource.org the documents it requested.
     The summary judgment came after Orrick denied the IRS’s motion to dismiss in June 2014.
     Contact Arvin Temkar at sanfran@courthousenews.com

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