"I don't give a s--- about the tea party thing," Carl Malamud was saying the other day. "And I don't personally believe it."
Malamud, a public domain advocate who once advised President Barack Obama's transition team, was referring to the ongoing controversy over whether the Internal Revenue Service unfairly targeted conservative organizations that had applied for tax-exempt status.
Many Republicans, including GOP leaders in Congress, have claimed a major scandal s brewing. Malamud doesn't think so, but he does find common cause with his right-leaning brethren over a larger point: The IRS has a big problem keeping track of things.
In fact, even before conservatives took the IRS to court, trying to get former official Lois Lerner's missing emails, Malamud was waging his own legal battle against the agency. Although the suits are dissimilar in content, they have become intertwined—as things tend to be.
Alas, there are Republicans and Democrats, red states and blue states: But anger with the IRS seems to unite all.
"The way they use computers is very bad," Malamud told CNBC.com.
At issue for him are two general principles: what the IRS has failed to make public and how the IRS has failed to protect the public.
Malamud runs an open-government nonprofit, Public.Resource.Org, which puts online a trove of government documents, including court records, safety standards and the tax filings of nonprofit organizations. While the public is legally entitled to these records, they often prove tricky or cumbersome to obtain.
In an effort to make things more user-friendly, Public.Resource.Org has built huge archives, including the most comprehensive online archive of the 990 forms that tax-exempt organizations must submit to the IRS annually. These forms include information about an organization's balance sheet, revenue and expenses, as well as a listing of key officers, board members and their compensations.
Since 2007, Malamud's Web-based organization has become an essential tool for government and consumer watchdogs and journalists—and receives about 2 million downloads a month, according to its own figures. And according to Malamud, it has given him a particularly intimate familiarity with the bureaucratic incoherence and intransigence of the federal government.
Although he has run up against this before—in the 1990s, Malamud made his name when he cajoled the Securities and Exchange Commission to publish corporations' financial disclosure forms online—he has found the IRS to be "particularly uncommunicative."