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IRS no-bid contract for Equifax an embarrassment

Tribune News Service • Oct 9, 2017 at 3:00 PM

The following editorial appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Oct. 5:

A new phrase associated with news stories that seem fake is, “Not The Onion.” The Onion is one of the longest-running satirical news websites. However, it was not satire when we learned the IRS awarded a multimillion-dollar no-bid fraud prevention contract to Equifax.

Yes, Equifax.

The same company still dealing with the fallout of a massive data breach that exposed the personal information of nearly 146 million Americans will soon make $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud.

Why not just allow the foxes to guard the henhouse?

According to news reports, the contract award for Equifax’s data services posted to the Federal Business Opportunities database on Sept. 30. The notice describes the contract award as “sole source order,” which means Equifax was deemed the only company capable of providing the service.

Really?

We find that hard to believe when there are two other credit reporting agencies, Transunion and Experian, that perform services similar to Equifax. The long-running list of data breaches in the U.S. created a market for data verification firms, many of which have not had their systems breached, exposing the private information of millions of people.

The IRS isn’t an agency the public sees in a positive light, and some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage at the decision. In a statement, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, “In the wake of one of the most massive data breaches in a decade, it’s irresponsible for the IRS to turn over millions in taxpayer dollars to a company that has yet to offer a succinct answer on how at least 145 million Americans had personally identifiable information exposed.”

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden, was not impressed: “The Finance Committee will be looking into why Equifax was the only company to apply for and be rewarded with this. I will continue to take every measure possible to prevent taxpayer data from being compromised as this arrangement moves forward.”

The IRS defended the decision with a ridiculous excuse: “At this time, we have seen no indications of tax fraud related to the Equifax breach, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Does that make anybody feel better? It’s like awarding the job for a bank guard to an armed robber because his previous crimes involved holding up liquor stores.

“Trust the government” is often treated as the punch line to a joke. But while it may seem funny on the surface, we’re usually forced to trust the government at times because it has information of ours that nobody else possesses.

Therefore, the IRS has a responsibility to be diligent in whom it chooses to allow access to that information. Awarding a no-bid contract to Equifax in the wake of the company’s failure to protect sensitive data is a breach of that forced trust.

The IRS should do better because taxpayers deserve better.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS (TNS)

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