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              FILE - This March 22, 2013 file photo shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. The Internal Revenue Service long has resisted efforts by an internal watchdog to help groups seeking tax-exempt status, creating a culture that enabled agents to improperly target such organizations for additional scrutiny, the National Taxpayer Advocate reported Wednesday. Nina E. Olson, who runs the independent office within the IRS, said in her annual report to Congress that culture continues today, despite the scandal that has rocked the tax agency for more than a month. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

GOP lawmakers press IRS on alleged release of thousands of Social Security numbers

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

Two Republican lawmakers are calling on the Internal Revenue Service to respond to reports that the agency accidentally released thousands of Social Security numbers.

In a Tuesday letter to Internal Revenue Service principal deputy commissioner Daniel Werfel, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany, requested that the IRS verify the accuracy of the documents, published by Public.resource.org, indicating that more then 2,000 Social Security numbers were included on 990-T forms released by the IRS and published at the agency’s website.

Political nonprofit organizations known as 527 groups file 990-T forms with the IRS.

“If true, these reports are especially concerning because the Committee’s investigation of IRS targeting of Tea Party groups revealed that the IRS knew about this risk, but did not safeguard against it,” Johnson and Boustany wrote in their letter Tuesday.

The pair pointed to a speech delivered by then-director of the Tax Exempt Organizations Unit Louis Lerner in March at the Washington Non-Profit and Tax Conference, in which she acknowledged that Social Security numbers could be at risk due to current agency practices and regulations.

“We cannot redact Social Security numbers on 990s unless they’re on the Schedule B. Legally, the only think (sic) we can react is Schedule B. We do have a process when we see them, we put them on disk and we sell them to folks — not the Social Security numbers, the 990s,” Lerner said in the speech, attached to the pair’s letter to Werfel.

“We do put a notice when we’re selling them to purchasers of a disk saying there is personal information such as Social Security numbers on the disk, so you may want to redact them, before you make it public, but we don’t have any control over their doing that. So that’s a reminder. I don’t think it’s happening so much on the new 990s but just in case, do be careful,” she added.

Johnson and Boustany, however, believe the IRS must do more to safeguard people from potential identity theft.

“According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), it received 26,354 identify theft cases between October 2012-March 2013,” they wrote. “In the TAS Annual Report to Congress for 2012, the Taxpayer Advocate concluded that the IRS fails to help hundreds of thousands of identity theft victims, some of whom wait six months or longer for a resolution. It is wrong for the IRS to at once fail to safeguard against a known identity theft risk and then fail to make its victims whole.”

By Aug. 6, the pair request that the agency provide the total number of Social Security numbers released since July 2008, why kinds of safeguards have been put in place to potentially guard against these type of disclosures, the accuracy of Public.resource.org’s audit reports, and whether the IRS has notified those affected of their vulnerability to identity theft.

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