IRS hires former OMB official as privacy czar

IRS Privacy and Security

The Internal Revenue Service hired a former Office of Management and Budget privacy analyst to serve as taxpayers' privacy advocate.

Maya Bernstein will oversee the agency's handling of personal information, IRS officials said last week. She replaces Peggy Irving as head of the office in charge of agency policies for protecting taxpayers' personal information. The job is increasingly important as more electronic systems handle the data during the agency's modernization, officials said.

The privacy advocate is also responsible for educating taxpayers and IRS employees about the agency's privacy policies for citizens and agency employees. Irving was the first privacy advocate at the IRS, and the position is one of only a few throughout government to be a permanent privacy post overseeing agencywide policy and enforcement.

Privacy has become a hot issue for many agencies, and with the wealth of personal information that the IRS collects from every taxpayer, it falls under watchful eyes in Congress and in the private sector, said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Bernstein was OMB's analyst for privacy issues in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 1990 through 1999. She has worked in the private sector for the past few years as a consultant on information policy and administrative law and as an attorney at the Washington, D.C., offices of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson.

The agency has more privacy regulations to conform to than most agencies, but "the IRS is fortunate to have somebody [who] is knowledgeable about privacy regulations available at this time," Schwartz said.

Although IRS employees are likely more aware of privacy issues than most federal employees, keeping the level of education and awareness high will be crucial to Bernstein's success because privacy is one area in which no one can afford to slip up, said one IRS official, who asked not to be named.

Experts have praised IRS privacy policies, calling them examples to emulate. The CIO Council adopted the agency's privacy impact assessment methodology governmentwide as a best practice.

Privacy impact assessments determine how a new system or function will handle personally identifiable information and analyze its impact on the data's owners. The E-Government Act of 2002 requires assessments for new information systems at federal agencies.

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Maya Bernstein's bio

Previous government positions: Lead privacy policy analyst in the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (1990-1999).

Private-sector experience: Served as a consultant on information policy and administrative law and as an attorney at the Washington, D.C., offices of the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson.

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