Unbridled Power by Shelley L. Davis, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Unbridled Power

Unbridled Power

by Shelley L. Davis
Hired by the IRS as its first -- and last -- official historian, Shelley Davis was afforded a rare glimpse into the nation's most feared government agency. What she saw, and what she writes, will outrage you.

Learn the shocking truth behind its closed doors:

A secret plot to destroy presidential tax returnsThe real  story of the IRS and the


Hired by the IRS as its first -- and last -- official historian, Shelley Davis was afforded a rare glimpse into the nation's most feared government agency. What she saw, and what she writes, will outrage you.

Learn the shocking truth behind its closed doors:

A secret plot to destroy presidential tax returnsThe real  story of the IRS and the Watergate Enemies ListBotched efforts to computerize and the resulting cover-upDeliberate destruction of self-incriminating recordsUse of taxpayer privacy laws by the IRS to protect itself from public scrutinyAudits of political enemies

"Shelley's story speaks directly to that pervasive fear so many of us law-abiding Americans feel, deep in our guts, that our own government is, at best, hiding something from us, and at worst, working against those folks it exists to serve."
-- From the foreward by Mary Matalin

Editorial Reviews

Etelka Lehoczky

Americans disgusted with decades of bipartisan corruption respond instinctively to the idea of a fresh-faced, apolitical outsider. Well, Shelley L. Davis really is such a person -- which just goes to show the downside of getting what you wish for.

Davis, who spent eight years as the IRS's "first -- and last" official historian, seems utterly lacking in the most basic political savvy. She was no novice when she came to the agency, having spent nine years writing top-secret histories for the Air Force and the Defense Mapping Agency. But you wouldn't know it from the ingenuous fury she brings to this account of the mishaps and cover-ups at the IRS. Fond of history's sentimental side (she likes to mention Paul Revere, and seems obsessed with the Whiskey Rebellion), Davis was shocked -- shocked! -- by the goings-on at the bureaucracy she then called home. In fact, that's how this book came to be. What started as official history is now an unauthorized biography of the IRS.

Not that Davis doesn't cite some significant abuses -- like the IRS's list of radical groups suspected of tax evasion in the early '70s, likened at the time to Nixon's infamous "enemies list." But most of her stories aren't so dramatic. She tells of "The Chicago Three," a trio of employees who were harassed with low performance reviews and transfers after reporting their boss's misconduct. His crimes? Accepting lunches, theater tickets and a bag of free meat -- "six prime steaks, ten pounds of ground beef, and a few pounds of cheese" -- from a guy with a dubious tax problem.

Incidents like these will seem downright cute to anyone familiar with the FBI's COINTELPRO operations -- or, more recently, with the government's "War on Drugs." For one thing, all of Davis' efforts to establish a pattern of abuse end up doing exactly the opposite. The IRS she portrays can't even get its computers working, much less mastermind evil schemes against the citizenry. Unbridled Power? It's more like "Unbridled Bumbling."

What's unfortunate is that there's a half-decent book hiding here somewhere. Davis did make one crucial discovery while on the inside: that the IRS, unlike other governmental agencies, routinely obliterates its history. The agency hoards or destroys records rather than sending them to the National Archives, so there's no evidence of exactly what it's been doing all these years. Davis' descriptions of her efforts at preservation make great, dishy reading -- she tells of whispered calls from frightened secretaries, of the occasional maverick bureaucrat revealing dusty roomfuls of forgotten lore.

The problem is, there simply wasn't enough in those rooms to fuel much of an exposé. Davis' tenure at the IRS may have educated her, but it's unlikely to enlighten anyone else. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1988, with nine years of similar experience at the Defense Department, Davis was hired as the first (and, as it turns out, last) historian for the Internal Revenue Service. As she soon learned, there was a catch to her new position: once a case is closed, IRS policy demands that files associated with it be discarded. In fact, IRS records in the National Archives end in 1917. By going public with allegations that top IRS officials broke laws and that the agency shredded its internal records to avoid public accountability, Davis ran afoul of her supervisors and became the target of what she calls a retaliatory internal security investigation. After seven years of frustration, she quit her job under pressure in 1995. In an engrossing, sometimes overly chatty account, Davis interweaves her own experiences with press accounts and transcripts of congressional hearings on the IRS, discussing IRS audits of Nixon's political enemies, the agency's arbitrary raids of businesses, its silencing of whistle-blowers, its punitive audits of radical groups and activist individuals, its inefficient and costly upgrade of its computers. Her colorful sketch of the Internal Revenue Service from the Civil War to the present revealingly links changes and loopholes in the tax code to historical events. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Davis was the IRS's firstand lastofficial historian. Here she provides more fuel for the ire of those who hate the IRS. She reveals some of the history she uncovered, including inept restructuring of the IRS's computer system, compilation of an "enemies list" even more extensive than Richard Nixon's, lies by IRS administrators to an ethics panel, destruction of records (including tax returns and taxpayer payments), and a code of silence that kept all of this from reaching the public. Davis found herself under investigation in retaliation for reporting a planned destruction of recordsa report she was required to make according to the IRS's own rules. She resigned after seven years with the IRS rather than have her reputation tarnished, as she had seen happen to other whistle-blowers. Davis's work is clearly a one-sided and personal presentation, but her allegations are supported by official records. For all libraries.A.J. Sobczak, formerly with California State Univ., Northridge

Product Details

Harper Business
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.49(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.16(d)

Read an Excerpt


betrayed into the hands of wicked men. —Mark 14:41

A few minutes after 1:30 p.m. on the date in question—April 15, 1996—I emerged from the Federal Triangle metro station in Washington, directly across the street from IRS headquarters. The building at 1111 Constitution Avenue is a seven-story Neoclassical monument to federal power that sprawls in an ungainly fashion across four square blocks of choice District of Columbia real estate so vast it merits its own zip code.

This being April 15—the only date that ranks up there in infamy in American lore with December 7—the big, bold, bronze Temple of Doom doors fronting on Constitution Avenue were obscured by a gaggle of last-minute filers hoping to snag a few "happy tax forms"—as one ill-advised IRS PR campaign pricelessly called them—in time to meet their midnight deadline.

A bristling battalion of tax protesters fleshed out the milling crowd, performing the annual rite of picketing IRS headquarters, holding up signboards laced with loopy legends, like lost our lease on the American dream, income tax unconstitutional, and my personal favorite: communism, Berlin wall, IRS.

An NBC News camera crew was shooting tape for that evening's Tax Day special. Because of the long-standing IRS policy of beefing up security around its installations on Tax Day, jolly Dave Junkins, director of support and services, headquarters operations—in charge of building security, that is—was out vigilantly guarding those imposing front steps. From the look of him, he seemed itching for all hell to break loose.

I'd always liked Dave Junkins. I'd known himsince my earliest days at the IRS, and we'd always enjoyed pleasant, if inconsequential, dealings. For his part, he couldn't have been friendlier, considering my very public resignation from the IRS just three months before.

"Shelley, how ya doin'? Makin' any money yet?" he ribbed me. Of course, we both knew that I was stone broke, driving a ten-year-old car, having recently forfeited my sweet GM-14 federal salary of $70K for the sake of protecting my professional integrity. But rather than dwell on past injustices, we stuck to banal banter. I'm sure he was a little taken aback to see me, considering that I was pretty much persona non grata around the place I'd practically lived in for seven years. But if he was surprised to see me, he never let on and warmly shook my hand. After a few moments of idle chitchat, I pulled open the brass doors. Inside the vestibule, I ran right smack into the last man in the world I wanted to see: Steve Raisch.

Raisch had been the bane of my Kafkaesque trials at the hands of the IRS. A blond six-footer with the hunky build you'd expect from an IRS internal security special agent, Raisch had perfected the cool-cop stance and epitomized the arrogant federal law enforcement officer who made too many Americans' blood boil. In my experience, Raisch didn't give a hoot about the broad responsibilities of the federal government. Like Junkins, Raisch had been detailed to keep the vestibule free of any potential Unabomber or Oklahoma City mad bomber copycats—this being just four days shy of the anniversary of the Waco and Oklahoma City tragedies.

Determined to keep my cool, I looked evenly at Raisch. He glared back with shock, surprise, and a good dose of contempt. Through his scowl, he seemed to convey that, impressed as he was by my audacity in reentering his facility, he still considered me to be a bit of bottom-sucking scum of the earth.

To put his personal animosity into some perspective, I'd put his name in the papers. Front page. I can distinctly recall running into Raisch on a deserted IRS staircase in the days after I went public with my allegations of lawbreaking at the highest reaches of the IRS, just two weeks before my protest resignation. Perhaps not surprisingly, he probably hadn't appreciated the unwelcome publicity. As for strike two against me in his book, I'd gone and gotten him investigated. I believed that Raisch had failed to investigate my claim that there had been a blatant violation of federal law involving destruction of government records. This had been the gist of my beef with the IRS: that it negligently and deliberately destroyed its paper trail, shredded its records, and trashed any chance for accountability, out of some ill-founded and irrational fear of exposure to public scrutiny.

A deep-seated arrogance drove the IRS's behavior in this arena. The IRS did these things because it could get away with them, and because nobody challenged it about this egregious violation of the law that requires government agencies to preserve evidence of what they have done with the public funds they are entrusted to spend. Until I came along.

And here I was, on the day after my fortieth birthday, jobless, salaryless, and, for the time being, futureless. Steve Raisch was still there, still in the loop, still in charge, no doubt still looking forward to a long, lucrative, cushy career as a federal law enforcement officer. Who was the winner and who was the loser? To a cartoon character like Raisch, the answer was obvious. As for me, I wasn't so sure.

"Nice to see you again, Steve." After choking the words out, I bit my tongue.

He peered straight through me before muttering in a self-consciously gravelly, Dirty Harry drawl: "Likewise."

Sweeping past him, I pulled open one heavy bronze door with a defiant tug, waltzed free as a bird up to the front desk, and whipped out my driver's license. Two rent-a-cops, a man and a woman, were minding the station that day. They glanced at my photo ID with bored looks while I borrowed their phone to call my friend Dave Madden, a branch chief in IRS chief counsel's office. Dave had been nice enough and brave enough to call me on my birthday and invite me to his IRS office for lunch. I'd been touched by the gesture: Despite all my travails at the hands of a cluster of key IRS higher-ups on an official level, on a more purely personal front I still had many close friends who, like Dave—God help them—still earned their living there.

Since I'd already made lunch plans, I invited myself to stop by Dave's office afterward for a friendly chat. That, I swear, was all I had in mind at IRS headquarters that day.

Dave Madden happened to be busy on another line. So he sent his assistant, Lee, to escort me upstairs. I was calmly cooling my heels in the lobby, gazing up at that cavernous coffered ceiling, when I felt the slightest touch at my elbow. Turning around expecting to see some shy old acquaintance, I found myself gazing into the dark, expressionless eyes of an African-American woman of medium height, about my age, and slightly stocky, with shoulder-length hair. I had never seen this person before. Clearly a plainclothes cop. Probably an IRS internal security special agent, by the look of her. Member of Steve Raisch's gang.

"Shelley," she breathed, in that urgent, low-pitched, law enforcement tone of voice, "we have to speak to you." At which point, she began gently but firmly tugging me by the elbow. She started yanking me off to the side of the room, away from the public vestibule, presumably so that we could conduct our little chat in private. I resisted, so that whatever mischief they were planning to commit on my person would occur in public view. The two of us stared at each other as she flipped open her leather-encased security badge to make sure that I knew she was for real.

"irs internal security," the badge read. Though I knew I'd done nothing wrong, I must confess a bit of fear. "Shelley," she said firmly, "we have uncovered evidence that you failed to turn in your IRS identification badge when you left the building last December. You have been banned from the building."

A flash of relief. From the very first tense moment that I initially felt her hand on my elbow, I had envisioned a nightmare scenario in which they would charge me with something a good deal more serious. They had already leveled completely false and unjustified charges against me, launching the ludicrous investigation that had precipitated my resignation.

Practically speaking, they held all the cards. Unlike me, they might have been able to make the charge stick. I had, for example, trusted them implicitly to protect the hundreds of boxes of critical IRS internal documents that I had squirreled away during my less than tranquil tenure as the first (and believe me, the last) official IRS historian. What would have stopped them from trashing that historical stock—which they were dying to do anyway—and then claiming that I'd lost it, stolen it, burned it—who knows? They could have charged me with the destruction of government property, which would have been rich, seeing as how that was the charge I had leveled at them. Or simply claimed that the documents I labored to save had never existed. My word against theirs. We all knew who would win that battle.

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