Is USDA Overreaching in Working With IRS to Provide Sensitive Farmer Data?

Published on: 19:25PM Mar 25, 2009
By Jim Wiesemeyer

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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Draft letter being worked on tells Vilsack about going against Congressional intent

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UPDATE: The letter from House Ag Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and eight of his Republican colleagues was sent today and is available below.

This Monday, the House Ag Committee was briefed on what some of its members and aides believe is "another example of USDA overreaching and going against Congressional intent," according to sources on the panel.

Background: USDA announced a plan that would force producers to sign a document giving the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the ability to furnish USDA with sensitive tax data. In the law, sources note, Congress explicitly gave producers the option of allowing a CPA or third party to certify once out of every three years that a producer was compliant with the new Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) standards. Instead, the sources added, producers will all have to sign a document allowing IRS to evaluate if all producers are under the AGI, "an ability that is suspect at best," according to one observer. IRS then would send a list of producers to flag and USDA would notify the producers they were out of compliance. The producers then would have to prove they were in fact in compliance.

Republican members on the House Ag Committee believe this is not the best course of action USDA could have chosen. The following letter was sent today to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on the matter by House Ag Committee Ranking Republican Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) along with eight of his Republican colleagues:

March 25, 2009

The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack
The United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We are writing to express our concern over your recent announcement in the federal register forcing all farmers to allow USDA access to their tax records before they are eligible for payments authorized by law. This invasion of privacy is clearly against Congressional intent.

Exacerbating our frustration is the short period during which farmers can comment on this announcement. We will be surprised if farmers even get the word that this new obligation is imposed on them before the comment period is closed on April 6, 2009.

Mr. Secretary, those of us responsible for the 2008 farm bill, from which you say this authority flows, did not anticipate farmers signing away their right to keep their tax information confidential while we debated section 1604(d)(1). If we wanted the IRS to share farmer tax information we would have explicitly said so.

We did not. We did offer a choice to producers. Congress allowed for a verification of income statement, prepared by a certified public accountant or another third party acceptable to you, to be submitted every three years that confirms the producer’s adjusted gross income which makes he or she eligible to receive payment.

By forcing every producer to give USDA the power to verify with the IRS information submitted by the farmer or rancher takes away this choice, unnecessarily invades privacy and contravenes the intent of Congress. We, of course, do not want ineligible producers receiving payments, but Congress provided an explicit mechanism to address the problem without involving the IRS. We strongly request you reexamine this decision. Congress never intended such a blatant violation of privacy.


Rep. Frank D. Lucas, Ranking Member, (OK-3)
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA-6)
Rep. Timothy V. Johnson (IL-15)
Rep. Sam Graves (MO-6)
Rep. Steve King (IA-5)
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX-19)
Rep. Jean Schmidt (OH-2)
Rep. Adrian Smith (NE-3)
Rep. Bob Latta (OH-5)

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NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.