Unbridled Power: Inside the Secret Culture of the IRS

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9780887308291: Unbridled Power: Inside the Secret Culture of the IRS
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An insider's expose of the Internal Revenue Service reveals the incompetence of the IRS, the agency's illegal practices, its culture of secrecy, and its lack of ethical behavior and abuse of power

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America's worst fears about the Internal Revenue Service are true. As former IRS employee Shelley L. Davis shows, the most hated federal agency in Washington, D.C., is a cesspool of corruption, incompetence, and hubris. Her Kafka-like insider's account of how IRS bigwigs mismanage their employees, destroy incriminating documents, and obstruct congressional inquiries is both a highly entertaining narrative (Davis tells her story with panache) and an extremely frustrating one (because this is where the money goes). Consider this "one long whistle-blow," Davis tells readers, and, indeed, she has performed a public service by writing her book.

From the Publisher:

"The Tax Filing Season From Hell" and other Misadventures at the IRS

On April 26, l985, after an unusually chaotic Tax Day, hundreds of unprocessed tax returns, many with checks still attached, were discovered in trash barrels at the IRS's Philadelphia Service Center. Headlining its story "THE NEW IRS COMPUTER SYSTEM CONTINUES ITS REIGN OF ERROR," the Philadelphia Inquirer drew a horrifying portrait of a thoroughly dysfunctional center. But there were more horrors to come: the IRS confessed that the Austin Service Center had destroyed thousands of letters from corporations requesting adjustments in their tax bills, and tax centers throughout the country soon owned up to tremendous backlogs which caused "bugs" in the computer system.

In Unbridled Power: Inside the Secret Culture of the IRS Shelley L. Davis - who served from 1989 to 1995 as the IRS's first and last historian - makes it clear that the "bugs" in the IRS extend way beyond the computer system. Unbridled Power is the story of unethical behavior in the highest ranks of the IRS bureaucracy, of clubby, self-serving executives who harbor contempt for other government agencies and "suggest" that their employees follow suit. It is the story of how the IRS evades its responsibilities, coddles criminals, lies to Congress, retaliates against whistle-blowers, and squanders the billions of dollars it receives in taxpayers funds on inadequate reform schemes, management seminars at top-notch resorts, and costly computer systems that don't work.

As IRS historian, Davis fought to recover and preserve documents that would shed light on the evolution of the IRS and showcase its place in American history and society. Regarded with suspicion and stonewalled at almost every turn, she witnessed events and uncovered materials that reveal an astonishing misuse of power. Combining a chronicle of her own experiences as a government "gadfly," with her insider knowledge of IRS misdeeds, the records she perused, and the information she gleaned in interviews with the people involved in IRS misdeeds, Davis describes:

The full story of the IRS's political manipulations during the Nixon presidency - including the existence of a top-secret IRS "Special Services Staff." Embarking on a dirty little war against "radical" organizations like the Black Panthers and anti-war groups, the special services staff compiled a list of suspected dissidents that not only was far more extensive than Nixon's notorious "enemies list," but preceded it by several months.

How a powerful Criminal Investigation Division Chief in Los Angeles instigated an investigation of Jordache Jeans, leading to a raid on the company's headquarters and the removal of more than two million documents. After three and a half years, no grand jury indicted anyone at Jordache - but, although he denied it, a Congressional subcommittee heard testimony that the man who initiated the probe did so while negotiating a six-figure job with Jordache's arch rival, Guess? Jeans.

The "code of silence," operating in the highest reaches of the IRS bureaucracy, that covered up the questionable activities of the head of Internal Auditors (the self-policing group within the IRS) in the Midwest region. Detailed reports filed by three long-term employees (all quoted here) were ignored or dismissed while the three watched in dismay as their own job evaluations plummeted. The accused boss continued to thrive.

How periodic negative reports from the field-tester of the IRS's new computer system were routinely ignored throughout 1984 and 1985 as the National Office, eager to avoid public embarrassment, continued to tout the system and ended up presiding over the great meltdown of 1986. And, Davis explains why, despite worldwide advances in computer technology, the IRS still lags woefully behind, forcing the Treasury Department to admit to Congress in March of l996, that a five-year, $4 billion effort to update the IRS's computer system was "badly off track."

The disconcertingly close relationship between the IRS and the tax practitioner community. That alliance fueled the IRS 's promotional push for electronic filing, a system which requires individuals to use a private tax preparer to file 1040 forms -- and nets some of those preparers a tidy bonus for the special service.

In the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1976, the United States Congress amended the Internal Revenue Code, placing the most severe restrictions ever placed on access to citizens' tax returns. Designed to prevent political abuse of confidential information, the statute has ironically become the IRS's most powerful and dangerous weapon. Maintaining that it gives the organization the right to forbid the disclosure of any and all information relating to itself, the IRS invokes the law to deny documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, to remain unresponsive to Congressional inquiries, and to silence whistle-blowers within its own ranks. Unbridled Power is the work of one whistle-blower who insisted on being heard. Every American should respond to her message.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Prior to her work at the IRS, Shelley L. Davis was a historian at the Defense Mapping Agency and the US Air Force. She is a certified teacher and has trained many field historians. She lives outside Washington, DC.

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