"A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, 'sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.' In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government."
Such was the opening of President Obama's January 2009 letter to the heads of Executive Departments and other federal agencies.
Established in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA for short, gives any person the right to access records or information held by a federal agency. Such agencies are required to respond within 20 days to each FOIA request.
Transparency in Government goes beyond merely providing records in response to FOIA requests. Transparency helps to promote accountability and gives insight into the operation of Government.
To those ends, the President directed agencies to "…take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use."
The IRS complies with FOIA law, and if you need to make a Freedom on Information Request to the IRS, you should visit their FOIA page at irs.gov. Most records are available only by written request.
Although FOIA may authorize the release of some records, such as a copy of the narratives added to your account, the IRS Office of Disclosure will review and sanitize the records in order to withhold personally identifiable information of other individuals. In that respect, the protection of taxpayer and third party privacy trumps FOIA regulations.
As an alternative to a FOIA request, the IRS makes the following records available through other means:Copies of previously submitted tax returns
A tax return transcript
Record of account actions
Tax forms and publications
Tax court cases
Internal Revenue Manuals and Internal Revenue Code
If you need a physical copy of a previously submitted tax return, send in Form 4506 to the address provided on the form. There is a $57 fee to cover the costs of the IRS pulling their records from archived files, photocopying and postage.
In lieu of the actual return copy, a transcript of the return may be appropriate. This is a free summary of the items that were on the return, and is often accepted by mortgage companies, student loan agencies or other groups needing return or return info verification.
If you need to see documentation of account actions, then request via phone an IRS Record of Account. This will show all transactions that occurred after a return has been filed. A Record of Account shows the return received date, the tax assessed, all applicable penalties and interest, payments made, etc.
Tax forms and publications can be had by going to irs.gov and going to the Forms and Pubs heading. You can also call the forms ordering number at (800) 829-3676.
Tax court cases are not the property of the IRS. You can obtain copies or view a summary of the rulings at ustaxcourt.gov.
Internal Revenue Manuals and Codes are available through irs.gov as well. Click on the Tax Professionals subheading, then select Codes, Regs and Guidance from the left hand menu column.
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