Officials Working to Determine How Info in Report About Billionaire Tax Payments Obtained

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress the Treasury Department was investigating how ProPublica obtained information on the taxes paid by America's wealthiest citizens, the Associated Press reported.

Yellen said the incident was a serious situation and the case has been referred to the Justice Department and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

"It is absolutely a top priority to safeguard taxpayer data. If there are actions that we need to take to shore up the protection of this information, you have...my word we will do so," Yellen said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Janet Yellen G7 Finance Ministers Meeting
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during a press conference after attending the G7 Finance Ministers meeting at Winfield House on June 5 in London, England. Finance ministers from wealthy G7 nations on June 5 pledged commitment to a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15 percent, rallying behind a U.S.-backed plan targeting tech giants and other multinationals accused of not paying enough. Justin Tallis/Getty Images

Testifying about Biden's $6 trillion budget proposal before the Senate Finance Committee, Yellen was asked Wednesday by Republican lawmakers about recent sharp gains in inflation, including a 5-percent rise in consumer prices for the 12 months ending in May, the biggest jump since 2008.

Yellen said no one wants to relive the double-digit inflation of the 1970s and the administration is taking the recent inflation "very seriously." But she said she still believes the price gains reflect temporary factors related to reopening the economy after the prolonged shutdowns due to the global pandemic.

"Most economist think the current burst of inflation we have seen reflects the difficulties of re-opening an economy that has been shut down," Yellen said, noting huge swings that have occurred in buying patterns and bottle necks that have caused shortages.

Yellen said when the pandemic hit more than a year ago prices, especially in such service industries as airlines and hotels, collapsed. Now with the country reopening, those prices are returning to more normal levels," she said

"I believe our economy is on track to get back to more normal operations" which will make the spike in inflation a temporary development, Yellen said. She said so far expectations about future inflation on the part of consumers and businesses have remained well anchored. That would lessen the threat that some kind of wage-price spiral like the one seen in the 1970s.

The nonprofit investigative journalism organization, ProPublica, reported that the richest Americans paid less in tax—an average of 15.8 percent of adjusted gross income—than ordinary workers do.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called last week's report "one of the most widespread breaches in history" of government data which would undermine the confidence of Americans in the IRS.

In her testimony on Biden's budget, Yellen said the administration was seeking to overcome decades of harmful economic trends which have contributed to widening income inequality.

"These destructive forces—the divergence in wages and of geographic regions, the decline in labor force participation, the rise of climate change and the persistence of racial inequality—all these are combining to block tens of millions of Americans from the prosperous parts of our economy," Yellen said.

Sen. John Thune GOP Luncheon
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), joined by fellow Senate Republicans, speaks to reporters after a Republican Senate luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Building on Tuesday in Washington, DC. The Senate is in negotiations for a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images