On February 10, 2016, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen appeared before the Senate Finance Committee to address “The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget. The record of that hearing is found at: http://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/the-presidents-fiscal-year-2017-budget
In response to the Committee’s invitation to do so, the following Statement for the Record was submitted on behalf of The Federation of Genealogical Societies. FGS Statement for Record SFC Hearing 10 Feb 2016 Final2
In commending the IRS for the effectiveness of the filters they have developed in an effort to thwart tax fraud by identity theft, perhaps the major point is that by so doing the IRS had already accomplished any possible benefit that might have been accomplished by the limitations on access to and content of the Death Master File provided by Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 even before it was signed in late December 2013. All that remained was the burden placed upon legitimate users of this resource.
“We add our commendations to those offered in the opening statement by Chairman Hatch by noting that the IRS has dramatically improved its ability to intercept tax fraud by identity theft (especially those using the SSNs of deceased individuals.) We ask Senators to revisit the wisdom of limiting access to and the content of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. While commending the work of the Department of Commerce in crafting regulations implementing Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, as written, we suggest areas where changes in legislative language might enhance the ability to (1) achieve the stated goal of reducing the opportunities for identity theft, and (2) minimize the unintended adverse consequences of limiting access and content available to legitimate users. Further question whether these provisions belong in permanent legislation and suggest ways of assessing their effectiveness and the impact of more targeted measures. Preliminary results of an ongoing case study are presented.”
With thanks to Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair
Richmond, 10 May 2014: Jordan Jones, President of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), a sponsoring member of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), announced the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights before a crowd of more than 2,500 genealogists attending the Opening Session of the NGS 2014 Family History Conference in Richmond, Virginia on 7 May 2014.
The Declaration of Rights is a statement advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. The Declaration affirms America’s long history of open public records, which has been threatened the last few years over concerns about identity theft and privacy. The Records Preservation and Access Committee has worked with state and federal legislators as well as local public officials for more than twenty years in support of legislation and regulations that achieve a balance between access and privacy. The Declaration of Rights has been approved by the board of directors of the three sponsoring organizations: The National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).
Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair signing the Genealogists Declaration of Rights. You can too!
During the NGS 2014 Family History Conference this week, genealogists from almost all fifty states have signed the Declaration of Rights. Over the next few months, the Declaration will travel to the 34th IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Salt Lake City, Utah, 27 July–1 August 2014 and the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in San Antonio, Texas, 27–30 August 2014. The Declaration will also be available for signature at http://bit.ly/gen-declaration by genealogists not attending one of the conferences. . . .
To see the full press release: Press Release RPAC Declaration of Rights Ver4 (3)
Lessons from the Public Hearing of 4 March 2014
I was privileged to participate in the public meeting Monday, March 4, 2014, in person with representatives of other vitally interested stakeholders, along with 111 remote participants via the World Wide Web. My testimony on that day relied heavily upon our analysis of an earlier version of what was to become Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act reflected in the RPAC Feedback on the Tax Administration Reform Discussion Draft submitted to the Senate Finance Committee on January 17, 2014 and made a part of the administrative record of this process as the last item posted at http://www.ntis.gov/pdf/rfi-comments.docx. Additional comments were also provided by several individual genealogists and genealogical organizations and providers.
As reflected in the transcript at http://www.ntis.gov/products/dmf-transcript2014.aspx my initial remarks challenge the premise upon which Section 203 is based, namely that limiting access to the Death Master File was a necessary measure to thwart the filing of fraudulent tax returns by thieves claiming the identities of recently deceased children. I asserted that even if thieves had acquired the SSNs of deceased persons from the DMF, if they then tried to take out a mortgage or bank loan, buy a car, open a credit card or charge account, or acquire telephone service at their apartment, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN REJECTED. All of these potential creditors would have used the DMF themselves to verify that the SSNs did not belong to a person already authoritatively reported to be deceased. In 2011, if the thieves were using the DMF, the IRS clearly WAS NOT (but we argue should have been!) According to the testimony of the then acting IRS Commissioner before the Senate Finance Committee on the 16th of April 2013, for Tax Year 2012 the IRS had implemented filters that should have improved their ability to intercept fraudulent tax returns before they were processed for payment. http://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=62739085-5056-a032-5281-4500bf4d4fb3
The vulnerability to the filing of fraudulent tax returns by identity theft rests at the IRS. It is not the result of making the “burned” SSNs of deceased persons publicly available in the DMF. The authors of this proposal should not claim to be effectively protecting us from identity theft by restricting access to this resource. IRS vulnerabilities have recently been getting more attention: http://www.grassley.senate.gov/issues/upload/Grassley-to-IRS-Return-Review-Program-4-21-14.pdf
After all who had signed up to speak had done so, the last hour of the public hearing was devoted to having the attendees respond to questions posed by the NTIS representatives hosting the event. Among the topics addressed: http://www.ntis.gov/pdf/2014dmf-transcript.pdf
- Alternatives to the DMF pp.45-58
- With all its flaws, DMF best resource currently available.
- Ms. Yohe of the College of Thoracic Surgeons at p.52 lists as criteria: definition, timeliness, costs
- My comments at pp. 53-56
- Alarm that DMF being incrementally dismantled.
- Pleas for a more comprehensive DMF p.64
- Addressed distinctions between “use” and “disclosure” pp.58-59
- Third party/subscriber access pp.75-79
Colleagues are invited to review my extemporaneous responses to the questions posed by the NTIS representatives hosting the public hearing and offer any suggestions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org on how they might be improved.
Much more to come
UPDATED LINKS TO ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMENTS: http://www.ntis.gov/products/ssa-dmf/# Scroll down to paragraph entitled “Previous Requests for Comments.”
With thanks to Dee Dee King, the first genealogist I know of to be Certified for access to the new Limited Access Death Master File (DMF):
“Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy has published a special edition of its newsletter Forensic Genealogy News. This edition contains an article “Demystifying the DMF.” This addresses a brief history of the Death Master File, the recent controversy surrounding it, my experience in applying to be certified for the new Limited Access Death Master File, and what I discovered once access was gained and I actually started using the new DMF.
“Some myths have been debunked and new information about the DMF is discussed that is not currently available elsewhere. Please feel free to share the link to the newsletter with others in the genealogical community. The article is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without advance permission. A source citation is included for those who wish to quote the article.
“Go to the Resources page
and click the link for Vol 4 #3 Special DMF Edition.”
The Bipartisan Budget Act included provisions limiting immediate access to the SSA Death Master File to all but those certified under a program to be developed by the Department of Commerce.
Commerce intends to follow a robust notice and comment process in the development of the Certification Program. Expect an announcement of a Request for Information (RFI) to be published shortly in the Federal Register and on the project web page at: http://www.ntis.gov/products/ssa-dmf.aspx . It is also likely that some form of a public hearing will follow.
Updated 2 March: On the 26th of February the anticipated Request for Information became available on the NTIS site above with the official publication in the Federal Register to follow. DMF NOTICE (2)
The RFI also announces a public meeting at which members of the public may provide comments on the establishment of the certification program for access to the DMF in person on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm Eastern time at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Madison Building West, 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA 22341.
RPAC representatives are planning to participate in this public hearing. Attendance of others (and the conduct of the hearing itself) may be influenced by a forecasted winter storm. While we do not want to discourage others from attending this public hearing, concern for safety should be a major factor in your decision to do so. If you anticipate that you will be able to attend, please email email@example.com and provide your contact information so that we may know of your availability and interest.
RPAC and component organizations are planning to provide comments on the RFI within the specified 15 days from the Federal Register publication date. If published as promised on 3 March, that would be 5pm Eastern on Tuesday, 18 March. Other individuals and organizational members of the genealogical community (especially those for whom a three year delay before having access to the DMF/SSDI would be problematic) are strongly encouraged to comment on the RFI as well.
After analyzing the comments in response to this RFI we understand that a proposed draft of the certification program contemplated by the Bipartisan Budget Act will be published to be followed by what we hope will be a further robust notice and comment process.
RPAC and IAJGS responded to the Senate Finance Committee invitation to provide input on Reforms to Administration of Tax Laws issued November 20, 2013 found at: http://www.finance.senate.gov/newsroom/chairman/release/?id=a4f8205c-d286-4a41-a61d-753d1abd23d3 Of particular interest to the genealogical community are those provisions that would attempt to address tax fraud by identity theft by limiting access to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).
RPAC Feedback to SFC Discussion Draft 20 Jan 2013 Final2
And with thanks to Michael S. Ramage, J.D., CG
Exhibit A 2014 forensic genealogists
IAJGS Comments for Senate Finance Committee final c (2)
We continue to urge immediate access for all genealogists but acknowledge that a three year delay before display of SSNs in the Death Master File/SSDI, if otherwise needed, would be manageable for most of us. We list categories of genealogists for whom a three year delay would be problematic and who should be certified for immediate access.
We offer four main points:
(1) We are anxious to support the effort to implement the provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act requiring the Department of Commerce to develop a Certification Program governing access to the Death Master File. Genealogists who fit the (a-f) categories listed on pages 2-3 should be accommodated for quick certification. The genealogical community is a vitally interested stakeholder in this process.
(2) As existing policy regarding public access to the Death Master File is reviewed, we urge that input from professional genealogists be sought. The members of the Records Preservation and Access Committee stand ready to assist in arranging for that input to both the Executive and Legislative branches. We can best be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
(3) Our strongest message is that steps already taken by the IRS and genealogical entities to protect SSNs listed in the SSDI may have already intercepted this particular form of identity theft without waiting for any additional legislation.
(4) The SSNs of living people will remain vulnerable as long as the IRS mandate is to rush payments of tax refunds before information returns can be compared with the submitted return to assure its validity.
Roughly two years ago the parents of recently deceased children began finding that the IRS was rejecting their legitimate tax returns because the identities of their children had previously been used by thieves to claim fraudulent refunds. Prior to those events, it is unlikely that these parents (or most legislators) had even heard of the Social Security Death Index (aka the Death Master File) nor the role it should play in preventing such predations.
The inclusion of provisions that might limit access to the DMF in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement recently adopted by the Congress, has encouraged the press to begin to try to explain what it is and how it functions for good and ill.
a. “Death Master File reform breathes life into U.S. budget deal”
b. Newsweek Article with a Zombie theme
c. The American Thinker article by Ken Ryesky
d. Commerce Department DMF Web Site
Please take advantage of (and seek out) every opportunity to share with your elected representatives the message “WHEN USED, the DMF should prevent fraud, not cause it ! ! ! !”
Congressional State and District Work Periods scheduled in January might be a good time to schedule a visit with your Senators and Representatives in their local offices.
This afternoon senators voted 64 to 36 to approve the bipartisan budget agreement. Section 203 restricts access to the Death Master File (DMF) to certified individuals under a new program established under the Department of Commerce.
This section also establishes a new user fee to cover the cost of certification that is projected to raise $517 million over 10 years.
RPAC will be outlining the approach we will be recommending that the genealogical community take in participating in the process Commerce is expected to take in developing this new program.
Much more to come. Stay tuned.
With thanks to Jan Meisels Allen,
The Bipartisan Budget Bill 2014 includes a revenue –generating provision that limits access to the Death Master File/Social Security Death Index. The provisions are identical to bills IAJGS and the genealogical community have been opposing in submitted statements to the US Congress for several years as there are no provisions to permit genealogists to have immediate access nor the special categories of genealogists that the genealogical community have agreed are to be given immediate access while the rest of us may wait a few years. The budget bill includes penalties for violations $1,000 per violations with a cap of $250,000 per person violator which is included in the revenue generating provisions.
The access restrictions to the Death Master File as stated in the bipartisan budget bill are for three years from date of death. Those certified by the Secretary of Commerce who have immediate access are listed to have legitimate fraud prevention interest or a legitimate business purpose pursuant to law governmental rule regulation or fiduciary duty and has systems, facilities, and procedures in place to safeguard such information, and experience in maintaining the confidentiality, security, and appropriate use of such information,
To read the bipartisan budget bill which is currently being debated in both the House and Senate see: http://tinyurl.com/kpksqp4 Go to section 203 starting on page 32 through page 37 to read the restrictions.
To read about the proposed revenue generation based on penalties go to: http://tinyurl.com/mu5gbjd
http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/Bipartisan%20Budget%20Act%20of%202013.pdf See pages 9 and 10
Thank you to Sharon Sergeant of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council for alerting us to this new threat for genealogists access to the Death Master File/Social Security Death File.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee
Stay tuned. Much more to come!