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FCW : March 30, 2016
The IRS does a decent job of managing its tech investments, and Congress keeps a careful eye on it. So why isn’t the agency a model of fully modernized, high-tech government services? In 2008, Richard Spires, then-deputy commissioner for operations support at the IRS, touted CADE’s ability to process 15 million taxpayer returns and said, “This system is the centerpiece of our modernization efforts at the IRS.” However, CADE never fully replaced IMF. It was sort of rolled into CADE-2, a follow-on project that was at one point slated to be completed by June 2013. It’s still not done, and the IRS continues to rely on IMF’s mag- netic tape to process and store taxpayer data. “We do have mainframes, whether you like it or not,” said Nitin Naik, the IRS’ technical director for strategic planning. It ain’t broke but needs fixing The back-end work is a tangled slog. Nearly a decade after kicking off its Tax Systems Modernization effort, IRS officials had to admit in 1997 that they had spent $4 billion on computer systems that “do not work in the real world.” Charles Rossotti was brought in from the private sec- tor that year to shake things up, and during his tenure as IRS commissioner, he championed Business Systems Modernization. But although that initiative helped power a reorganization at the IRS, it was beset by delays, cost overruns and failures to effectively coordinate between contractor CSC and the IRS bureaucracy. And so the agency is still, in 2016, using 1960s tech- nology. It’s a workforce problem as much as it is an IT challenge. “It’s not broken,” Naik said of IMF. “It’s just...diffi- cult to maintain. Congress keeps changing legislation, altering rules, then you have to go back in, program it, make sure it works.” All that programming in the old assembler language Cobol helps keep the IRS tied to IMF. “We have to train our own people” in the old programming language, which certainly doesn’t help the agency operate nim- bly, Naik said. Taxpayer data has been transferred to modern data storage platforms through CADE-2. But the agency still depends on the logic and processes coded into IMF, all linked to the Byzantine interplay of the tax code. Complexity breeds complexity Web-based interfaces such as “Get Transcript” don’t fit easily into the IRS’ mainframe setup. IMF’s designers “never really thought you’d have people extracting data on a one-off basis,” said Tom Romeo, president of IRS contractor Maximus Federal Services. “Their underlying systems were not written to support that kind of access.” Instead, IMF was designed with mass-intake capacity in mind. In the modern era, IRS and contractor employ- “WE’VE GOT MORE IT CHALLENGES THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT” JOHN KOSKINEN, IRS COMMISSIONER 0330fcw_020-024.indd 21 3/9/16 9:31 AM
March 15, 2016
April 15, 2016