Judge Orders Form 990s Be Digitalized

An effort to make nonprofit tax forms and data more accessible and searchable online took a potentially big step forward after a judge’s ruling last week.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California gave the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 60 days to comply with a nearly two-year-old Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking Form 990s of nine tax-exempt organizations in a searchable, electronic format.

Public.Resource.Org submitted a FOIA request in March 2013, seeking release in Modernized E-file (MeF) format of Form 990s for nine nonprofits that had been filed electronically. The IRS argued that the MeF format was not a “recognizable record,” included confidential information, and the agency did not have a process to convert the releasable portions back into MeF. It also estimated a cost of $6,200 – including one-time expenses – to disclose the nine returns in MeF format, which would include developing a new protocol and training staff. Under the current process, IRS said it costs about $1.63 per Form 990 to produce image files, which doesn’t make it searchable as a .pdf. Continue>>>