The Internal Revenue Service said Thursday it had told a contractor to stop sending the agency information about political party affiliation in databases used to track down delinquent taxpayers.
The National Treasury Employees Union told tax officials last month that, in some cases, political affiliation appeared in data that the IRS uses for tax collection. A private contractor provided the data.
The union's president, Colleen Kelley, wrote the IRS about her concern that such information "in material routinely consulted in the tax collection process raises an appearance of possible impropriety that could erode taxpayer confidence in the independence of our voluntary compliance system."
IRS employees are prohibited from using political party affiliation when enforcing tax laws.
John Dalrymple, the IRS' deputy commissioner for operations support, wrote Kelley that he reviewed the data after the union brought the matter to his attention and found the private data collectors drew from voter registration information for individuals in 21 states.
"However, the IRS makes no use of any information related to political party affiliation because IRS rules prohibit such usage," he wrote. "The only portion of voter registration information that is used relates to the voter's address."
IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said the agency last month asked the contractor to remove voter information, such as party affiliation, from databases sent to the tax collectors. Only a few of the 21 states of voter information included political affiliation, he said.
Kelley said she also had concerns that information about individuals' political affiliations could land in the hands of private contractors that the IRS plans to hire to collect outstanding tax debts.
Lemons said private debt collectors will have access only to taxpayers' names, Social Security numbers and the amount of their unpaid taxes.
Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that controls money for the IRS, said it is risky for IRS employees to have access to people's political affiliations despite prohibitions against using the information.
"The potential for abuse here is real," she wrote IRS Commissioner Mark Everson.
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