Freedom of Information Act

Coca-Cola is seeking a re-determination in Tax Court of certain Internal Revenue Service (IRS) transfer-pricing adjustments relating to its 2007–2009 tax years. In the case, the IRS moved for partial summary judgment seeking a ruling that a 1996 Internal Revenue Code Section 7121 “closing agreement” executed by the parties is not relevant to the case before the court.

Closing Agreement Background

Following an audit of the taxpayer’s transfer pricing of its tax years 1987–1989, the parties executed a closing agreement for Coca-Cola’s 1987–1995 tax years. In the closing agreement, the parties agreed to a transfer pricing methodology, in which the IRS agreed that it would not impose penalties on Coca-Cola for post-1995 tax years if Coca-Cola followed the methodology agreed upon. Despite following the agreed-to methodology for its post-1995 tax years, the IRS determined income tax deficiencies for Coca-Cola’s 2007–2009 tax years, arguing that pricing was not arm’s-length. Continue Reading Tax Court: Prior Closing Agreement May Have Relevance in Coca-Cola’s Transfer Pricing Case

On September 7, 2017, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report about the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedures. After reviewing a statistically valid sample of FOIA requests, TIGTA concluded that the IRS improperly withheld information 14.3 percent of the time—or approximately 1 in 7 FOIA requests.

TIGTA also found that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, there were 334 backlogged information requests. Below is a chart from the report showing the IRS’s recent history of backlogged FOIA requests.

TIGTA’s findings are consistent with our experiences with FOIA requests. It is not unusual for the IRS to make repeated requests for extensions to respond. We note further that, during an examination, the IRS is statutorily authorized to provide taxpayers access to their administrative file. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Manual confirms this at section 4.2.5.7 (June 15, 2017). Yet the IRS examination team often requires a FOIA request.

Practice Point 1: As a result of the IRS’s FOIA backlog, some taxpayers have resorted to filing lawsuits in federal district court to enforce their FOIA rights. Because the IRS must respond to court deadlines, taxpayers are sometimes able to force a more expedient response and move to the front of the response line.

Practice Point 2: Taxpayers should attempt to tailor their FOIA requests, only requesting the information in which they are interested. In theory, this could make the IRS’s job easier and, in turn, responses more timely.

Practice Point 3: If taxpayers intend to seek information from the government through the FOIA process, they should do so as soon as possible (e.g., at the beginning of the examination process) so that they may get the information in time to be useful.

Upcoming Tax Controversy Activities in September:

September 13, 2017: Tom Jones is presenting an update on Captive Tax in Charleston, South Carolina, at the South Carolina Captive Insurance Association Annual Conference.

September 14, 2017: Robin Greenhouse and Kristen Hazel will be speaking at McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable meeting in New York City about tax ethics.

September 18, 2017: Justin Jesse is speaking at the PLI Basics of International Taxation session in San Francisco about “Tax Concerns for US Persons Investing or Operating Outside of the US (Outbound Investments) – Active Business Operations.”

Wrapping up August:.

Our August 2017 blog posts are available on taxcontroversy360.com, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on tax controversy news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, click here to subscribe to our email list.

August 3, 2017: Tax Court Addresses “Issue of First Impression” Defense to Penalties

August 7, 2017: President Trump Nominates Copeland and Urda to US Tax Court

August 8, 2017: Record Numbers Are Giving Up US Citizenship

August 9, 2017: TIGTA Pounces on IRS Federal Records Retention Policies; Recommends Changes

August 11, 2017: The IRS Is Struck Down Again in Privilege Dispute

August 14, 2017: McDermott Named “Law Firm of the Year” at 2017 US Captive Services Awards

August 16, 2017: Grecian Magnesite Mining v. Commissioner: Foreign Investor Not Subject to US Tax on Sale of Partnership Interest

August 17, 2017: Sovereign Immunity Principles Bar Taxpayers from Challenging John Doe Summonses

August 23, 2017: Court Rejects Taxpayer’s Claim for US-Swiss Treaty Coverage

August 24, 2017: Internal Revenue Service Updates Golden Parachute Payments Audit Technique Guide, Signaling Key Items IRS May Review on Audit

August 25, 2017: IRS Criminal Investigation Division Announces Two New Initiatives

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) recently summarized several critical deficiencies in how the IRS handles electronically stored federal records in a recent report, available here. The lapses identified by TIGTA may affect the availability of those electronic records for future Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, litigation and Congressional review. The report does not address the IRS’s retention policy for physical documents.

Federal law mandates the retention of the government’s federal records. Unfortunately, prior to May 22, 2013, IRS electronic asset disposal policies included instructions to “wipe” and “reimage” computer hard drives that were no longer needed by IRS users. If those computers were the only repository for electronically stored federal records, that information would be lost. TIGTA noted that, even though the IRS revisited those policies several times, computers were still being wiped and reimaged as part of the IRS’s migration to Windows 7 through January 14, 2016. This also affects email retention since users are often required to manually identify and store or print their email records. An upgraded email solution that will permit the automatic retention and storage of email records is being implemented.

Further, TIGTA determined the IRS’ storage and retention policies for computers that were not wiped or reimaged were ineffective. For example, TIGTA found that the IRS has approximately 32,000 laptops and desktops in storage, but an inventory report identifying the number and location of computing devices currently in storage from specific employees could not be readily produced, rendering electronic federal records on those devices essentially unavailable.

These inadequate electronic record retention policies have resulted in the destruction of material subject to litigation holds, delays in the FOIA process, and the unavailability of responsive documents for FOIA requests. TIGTA made the following recommendations, which the IRS agreed to:

  • An enterprise email system should be implemented that enables the IRS to comply with federal records management requirements.
  • A methodology for developing one list of executives for the permanent and 15-year email retention groups should be documented.
  • The newly issued policy on the collection and preservation of federal records associated with separated employees should be disseminated broadly within the agency.
  • The director should ensure that the policy for documenting search efforts is followed by all employees involved in responding to FOIA requests.
  • The director should develop a consistent policy for the search of federal records associated with separated employees.

Practice Point: When drafting FOIA requests and discovery requests for electronic records, practitioners should be aware of record-retention challenges facing the IRS since they will impact the IRS’s ability to fully respond to FOIA requests and adequately implement litigation holds for years to come.