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IRS whistleblower Jennifer Long had planned to testify behind a screen in an electronically distorted voice when she told a Senate hearing that her agency harassed taxpayers. Plans changed when the Houston-based tax auditor arrived at the airport for her flight to Washington, and ran into an IRS supervisor she knew. Her cover blown, Long decided to criticize the IRS’ conduct in full view of the cameras in the nationally televised Senate hearing, while fellow whistleblowers hid their identities. Long believes she’s still paying for her decision of four years ago. The Internal Revenue Service this month sought to derail her application for a certified public accountant’s license, prompting new concern on Capitol Hill about possible retaliation. Two years ago, the IRS gave Long a notice of termination. Although the threat never was carried out, it also sparked congressional outrage over possible retaliation. The latest controversy began in February, when IRS officials sent a routine form back to Texas licensing regulators, declining to answer questions about Long’s skill, character and integrity while alerting the agency it was sending a “narrative” required for derogatory information. The agency then drafted a three-page letter to the regulators dated March 22 that sharply criticized her work on multiple fronts — including suggesting that she mishandled audits. “The probes for unreported income were not adequate,” said the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. The Texas Board of Public Accountancy, however, granted Long’s license in the interim and the IRS letter was never sent. Long was the star witness at 1997 hearings before the Senate Finance Committee that examined alleged abuses by the IRS. She was the lone agency worker to shun a voice disguise and protective screen used by fellow whistleblowers to conceal their identities. In 1999, IRS officials sent her a termination notice but never fired her after members of Congress inquired about possible retribution. The latest episode prompted Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to allege that the letter drafted for Texas regulators amounted to new retaliation. “I can only conclude that this action by the IRS may be a precursor to a termination of Ms. Long in retaliation for her testimony as a congressional witness,” Grassley wrote IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti this month. Grassley added he would “take every recourse within my power to protect her.” IRS officials declined to discuss why the letter was drafted and why it was never sent, citing employee privacy. But Rossotti said in an interview with AP he was “very familiar … up to date” on the situation and was confident there was no retaliation against any agency whistleblowers. “There have been various incidents of complaints that have come up. I have made it a point to be sure that every one of those situations has been thoroughly, and I would say very thoroughly, investigated,” he said. “I can tell you I am personally certain that none of these people were retaliated against and all have been treated fairly.” Long has sued the IRS in federal court alleging retaliation. A federal judge in Houston dismissed the lawsuit, pointing out in a footnote that no action was taken against the IRS by the agency that investigates whistleblower complaints of retaliation. The office “closed the file” on Long’s complaint, the judge noted. A revenue agent whose job is to audit tax returns, Long alleged at the hearings in 1997 that “many agents are encouraged by management to pursue tax assessments that have no basis in law from individuals who simply can’t fight back.” Other IRS employees offered similar testimony with their faces hidden and their voices disguised. Long said in an interview that she had planned to have the same protection. “When I went to board the plane, here is an IRS manager waiting to get on the plane and they seated me right behind him,” Long recalled. “There was no way for him to miss me. After I saw him, I assumed everybody would know.” The hearings eventually had an effect on the IRS. Reacting to the reform movement, former President Clinton signed a law in July 1998 that subjected the IRS to greater outside review and imposed new limits on its sweeping powers over individual Americans. The March 22 letter obtained by AP was prepared by Dallas-based K. Steven Burgess, an IRS supervisor. On Feb. 16, he partially filled out a state accountancy board form for employers and wrote, “narrative to follow.” The draft letter by Burgess contended that in a series of audits, “the time charged to the examination was not commensurate” with the work Long had done. Burgess also accused Long of lacking “pre-audit planning,” failing to “provide an audit trail of actions,” inadequately investigating unreported income and failing to follow new rules requiring examination notices be sent to both husband and wife when examining joint returns. Burgess did not respond to calls to his office seeking comment. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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