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FCW : March 30, 2016
24 March 30, 2016 FCW.COM IRS probably wouldn’t implement all of them in any event, but there are some that we don’t implement simply because we don’t have the resources to do it, so we have to triage which are the most important patches that we’ve got and which are not, and that’s simply a question of resources.” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), for one, is fed up. He said constant congressional attacks have harmed IRS moderniza- tion efforts as much as funding cuts. “Of all the federal agencies, IRS is maybe suffering the most in terms of an IT backlog,” Connolly said, criticizing Republicans for spending years hammering the agency over the scrutiny of conservative nonprofits. Powner, on the other hand, said modern congressional scrutiny is more often good than bad. “I don’t think there are too many hearings on IT,” he added. Wanted: Real live people Critics say the IRS could improve its technology standing with better leadership, but on paper at least, the agency already has strong technology leaders. But if it’s going to keep those leaders, the agency might need Congress to reinstitute an expired hiring authority. Koskinen, who was confirmed at IRS commissioner in late 2013, shepherded the Clinton administration through the Year 2000 computer glitch, and IRS CTO Terry Milholland (who essentially functions as CIO) has been a steady hand at the technology wheel since 2008. Rossotti said Koskinen is a good leader for an agency in a technological crisis, and Powner said the IRS has had a “continuity of strong leadership” over the past decade and a half under Rossotti, Spires and Milholland. “What [Milholland] wants to do, he has the authority” to do, Powner said, adding that Milholland had more control over spending and technical direction than many other fed- eral CIOs. “It’s a real CIO position.” But Milholland was hired under a streamlined critical pay authority, which was granted to the IRS in 1998. It expired in 2013. The IRS used that authority to hire as many as 40 execu- tives and pay them salaries of as much as $230,000 without going through the typical months-long federal hiring process. However, the pay is “much less important than the ‘stream- lined’ part,” Koskinen said, adding that talented IT profes- sionals won’t wait around. “It’s not always just the additional money,” Powner agreed. He said getting people into jobs quickly and smoothly helps demonstrate the importance of their work and the existence of the political will to support that work. Currently, only 14 people, including 10 very senior IT officials, are employed at the IRS under the expired author- ity, Koskinen said. But because the authority only granted four-year terms, those people will soon go away. “They start turning into pumpkins by June of this year,” Koskinen said. “By next summer, they’re all gone.” Milholland declined to be interviewed for this story, but Koskinen said that although the CTO “would be delighted to stay” at the IRS if the hiring authority is reinstituted, he’s not likely to stick around for a pay cut and a trek through red tape. Koskinen has tried before and failed to get the authority reinstated, but he has pledged to seek a legislative solution, adding, “We’ve got a lot of support on the Hill.” The measure would need the approval of such frugal com- mittees as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Oversight and Government Reform committees. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House over- sight committee, said last month that the IRS could take advantage of an existing Office of Personnel Management pay-boosting authority instead of seeking the restoration of its own streamlined critical pay authority. After all, Chaffetz said, only four of 800 available OPM authority slots have been filled. But Koskinen said those small numbers speak to the pro- gram’s weakness: It offers higher pay, but “it’s the opposite of streamlined.” Keep the tax code simple, stupid The IRS has taken some lessons from the modernization efforts of the past and is now following the slow-and-steady, one-thread-at-a -time approach. But for those looking for innovative solutions, tax code simplification is a strong possibility. “As an American citizen and a guy who worked at the IRS and understands it pretty well, I would say a simplified tax code would help,” Spires said. “Frankly, the complexity of it is one of the big problems.” If the government were to dramatically simplify the tax code, the IRS would no longer need to rely on the compli- cated relationships programmed into IMF or design compli- cated mechanisms to take its place. And with fewer pages in tax-return instruction books, the agency could design more effective public-facing services as the demand for those ser- vices plummets. As Yale University tax law professor Michael Graetz quipped back in 1998: “Restructuring the IRS without rewrit- ing the tax law it administers is like trying to turn a Winnebago around without taking it out of the garage.” Failing simplification of the tax code, Koskinen said the crucial goal is keeping talented people at the IRS. He added that he intends to push for the restoration of streamlined critical pay authority until his term expires in 2017. As for the story of IRS modernization, the chapters of that book aren’t yet written. “When you’re modernized is when you turn the old stuff off,” Powner said. And there’s no telling when the Kennedy- era IMF will finally be shut down. n Political spotlight helps and hurts 0330fcw_020-024.indd 24 3/9/16 9:32 AM
March 15, 2016
April 15, 2016