IRS’ Computers

During Monday night’s House Oversight Committee hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen tried to deflect blame for the missing Lerner Emails by claiming that the IRS’ computer systems were outdated, obsolete, prone to PC hard drive crashes, and it’s all due to lack of funding:

It is not unusual for computers anywhere to fail, especially at the IRS in light of the aged equipment IRS employees often have to use in light of the continual cuts in its budget these past four years. Since January 1 of this year, for example, over 2,000 employees have suffered hard drive crashes.

The IRS has, despite all those enormous budget cuts, a $1.8 billion IT budget. Regarding those obsolete systems, The New York Times had some thoughts:

After five years, a project to replace the Internal Revenue Service’s aging file-keeping computer system with modern technology is so far behind schedule that the IRS has told the prime contractor that unless it improves its performance by the end of the month [31 December 2003], the government may have no choice but to fire it.

The project, which was expected to cost $8 billion when completed, has spent less than $1 billion so far, but it is already 40% over budget for what it has done, according to the IRS Oversight Board, an independent watchdog body that Congress created in 1998.

And this:

”This is not about a one-time delay,” said Larry Levitan, chairman of the Oversight Board. ”Every single major project under way experienced a significant delay in time and overrun in budget—not two or three out of five, but five out of five. What we have here is a five-year track record of absolute consistency of cost overruns and delayed deliveries.”

In fact, some parts of the computer system upgrade project had fallen 27 months behind schedule in those five years.

There’s this update from Bloomberg:

The upgrade, which will allow the IRS to process the returns on a daily instead of a weekly cycle during the 2012 filing season, is part of a business systems modernization program, begun 12 years ago, that also includes overhauls of the agency’s electronic tax filing and data retrieval systems.

To get even this far, the IRS had to dumb down the project and not include, as originally planned and scheduled, retirement plan and business tax records in the database upgrade part of their project.

Of course, Turn-around Artist and part-time IRS Commissioner John Koskinen knows this history, but that’s a small point here. The larger point is that the IRS has had lots of time and lots of money with which to upgrade its systems—including the PCs its personnel have on their desk, PCs (and OEM hard drives) that cost jingle money compared to their systems upgrade project. In fact, were I to buy an adequate PC from Dell (adequate: no knock on Dell, meaning satisfactory for the job) for each of the 89,500 IRS employees, it would cost me just $125 million out of that $1.8 billion budget, or about 7% of the budget—and this would be expense that wouldn’t need to be repeated for four or five years.

Koskinen’s attempt to blame his “lost” emails on poor Congressional budget decisions is just another example of his, and the IRS’, general mendacity.

Aside: how well were the data on those 2,000 hard drives backed up?

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