GAO Reports  
GAO-02-526 April 30, 2002

Tax-Exempt Organizations: Improvements Possible
in Public, IRS, & State Oversight of Charities

The tremendous outpouring of charitable donations in response to September 11 has raised concerns about whether some charities are spending too much on fundraising and management and too little on the charitable purposes related to their tax-exempt status. GAO found that Form 990 expense data is inadequate for public oversight purposes because charities have considerable discretion in recording their expenses when it comes to fundraising, management, and charitable services. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) lacks data on the type and extent of possible compliance issues among charities. Moreover, IRS oversight of charities suffers from a lack of results-oriented goals and strategies. Concerns have also been raised that IRS's resources have not kept pace with the growth in the charitable sector, and some measures suggest that available resources may not be used as effectively as in the past. State officials consider inadequate the charity data IRS shares with them. IRS does not proactively share some data that states are permitted to receive, such as denials and revocations of charities' tax-exempt status. Federal law prohibits sharing some data that state officials believe would be valuable, such as the status and results of examinations of charities' returns.

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