Saturday, October 28, 2006

This Time Of Year Brings Out The Best In People

I.R.S. Going Slow Before Election

The commissioner of internal revenue has ordered his agency to delay collecting back taxes from Hurricane Katrina victims until after the Nov. 7 elections and the holiday season, saying he did so in part to avoid negative publicity.

The commissioner, Mark W. Everson, who has close ties to the White House, said in an interview that postponing collections until after the midterm elections, along with postponing notices to people who failed to file tax returns, was a routine effort to avoid casting the Internal Revenue Service in a bad light.

"We are very sensitive to political perceptions," Mr. Everson said Wednesday, adding that he regularly discussed with his senior staff members when to take actions and make announcements in light of whether they would annoy a powerful member of Congress or get lost in the flow of news.

The tax agency has broad discretion to change filing deadlines in the case of disasters and has traditionally eased off tax collections before the December holidays.

But four former I.R.S. commissioners, who served under presidents of both parties, said that doing so because of an election was improper and indefensible.

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