What IRS Records?

Article excerpt

Tired of the record-keeping hassles associated with paying taxes? You say you can't always remember what you did with certain documents? Congratulations. You may have a bright future at the Internal Revenue Service.

The agency that has stern record-keeping requirements for taxpayers, you see, is much more relaxed about its own record-keeping. Indeed, it is so relaxed that in some cases the agency simply doesn't do it. According to the agency's former historian, Shelley Davis, she found documents in dumpsters, in the attics of former agency employees, in closets, in basement offices, just about everywhere except where they were supposed to be. In the end, the agency that lost its documents wound up losing its historian too.

But Ms. Davis is concerned the agency may wind up going without something more important: its history. Historians, she told the Wall Street Journal last month, are "grasping at air" when it comes to researching the past of the IRS. "You can't prove anything."

Ms. Davis, a former historian with the U.S. Air Force, anticipated no such problems when she joined the agency in 1988. She began simply by trying to collect what papers she could find about the agency's operations and policies, some going back to its founding in 1862. Ironically, it began to dawn on her that the most important thing about the records was what she didn't find. She had difficulty finding almost any records about IRS operations after 1930. And the agency, which by law was supposed to turn over documents of historical significance to the National Archives, last did so in 1971.

Her complaints about the lack of record-keeping caught the sympathetic ear of an IRS official, who subsequently invited her to prepare a report on the problem. In 1993, she submitted to the agency that cited "the disarray that permeated IRS record-keeping." For her trouble she was told that she had "done more harm than good. …