Re: IRS may be in deep trouble

Keith Elis (
Thu, 18 Sep 1997 18:34:44 -0400

Yes, indeed. The IRS is (as the French say) fucked. But they knew about
this computer deficiency as early as 1985. I took a quick look at the
Congressional Record, and found this:

Congressional Record -- Senate
Thursday, December 12, 1985;
(Legislative day of Monday, December 9, 1985)
99th Cong. 1st Sess.
131 Cong Rec S 17495

> My own concern on this subject arose
> in January 1985 when I wrote to Commissioner Egger regarding
> the computer breakdown at the Philadelphia Center in the
> fall of 1984. This unprecedented breakdown resulted in
> thousands of threatening letters erroneously being generated
> to area businesses which had, in fact, obeyed the law and
> did not deserve such warnings of imminent property and bank
> account seizure.
> Unfortunately, following this unhappy event, circumstances
> went from bad to worse at the Philadelphia IRS Service Center,
> and apparently, at centers throughout the country. My office
> was deluged by telephone calls and letters from Pennsylvanians
> who were awaiting refunds, and who were unable even to establish
> contact with the service center due to inadequate phone lines
> to service these rightfully irate taxpayers.


> This reluctance on the part of Commissioner Egger and the IRS
> to face squarely the issues and problems raised during the past
> year is deeply disturbing. A totally candid confrontation is
> necessary in order to organize future operations and to arrange
> for contingency plans. This type of candid awareness is now
> absent in the IRS. Commissioner Egger's responses to questions
> posed at the November 19, 1985 Washington hearing further
> indicate that such an awareness has long been absent from
> collective IRS thinking.
> One example of this is shown by the Commissioner's repeated
> unwillingness to acknowledge the severe plight of the computer
> operation in all 10 service centers for the 1985 season,
> despite the fact that testimony shows notification by his staff,
> almost 1 full year in advance, that "massive backlogs" could
> result. Yet even during the midst of this crisis, Commissioner
> Egger reassured the House Ways and Means Committee on March 11,
> 1985, that these were "transitional problems," a "shakedown period"
> of "working out the bugs in the equipment." A definite change of
> approach and attitude by the IRS is needed if such problems are
> to be avoided in the future.

Of course these computer problems were put on the back burner.

Now look at this:

Friday, August 1, 1997
105th Congress, 1st Session
143 Cong Rec E 1605
REFERENCE: Vol. 143, No. 112

> REP. ROBERT PORTMAN (OH): Congress created the National Commission
> on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service in response to mounting
> public concerns about the performance of the IRS.


> The commission found a serious lack of expertise, continuity and
> accountability in the management structure of the IRS. Over the
> years, IRS has developed an insular culture that is often resistant
> to input and ideas from outside the agency--preventing leaders at
> the top of the organization from effecting real changes. When things
> go wrong, such as the $4 billion computer modernization failure,
> no one is clearly responsible.
> Billions of taxpayer dollars were wasted on the tax systems
> modernization program "due to pervasive management and technical
> weaknesses" according to GAO. In 1995, the GAO described the same
> efforts as "chaotic" and "ad hoc."
> The IRS has failed a number of recent audits by the General Accounting
> Office and is unable to balance its own books. At the same time,
> we're spending more on the IRS than ever--the IRS budget has almost
> tripled since the Carter administration and now stands at $7.3 billion.
> And, the Department of Treasury has not demonstrated a historic pattern
> of effective oversight of the IRS--often ignoring problems until they
> have reached crisis proportions. There are no clear lines of
> accountability and responsibility in the current IRS-Treasury
> relationship. And, Treasury often advocates tax policy goals that
> create administrative nightmares for the IRS.

A few observations:

Congress has known of the computer deficiency since the 1984 tax season.
Yet nothing was done about it. Business as usual, you might say, but
this becomes interesting when one considers that also in 1985, it was
known that "[candid] awareness has long been absent from collective IRS
thinking." You'd think that someone would at that point step in with a
plan to revamp the system. Instead, Congress waits until 1997 to make
the same useless observation, "Over the years, IRS has developed an
insular culture that is often resistant to input and ideas from outside
the agency--preventing leaders at the top of the organization from
effecting real changes."

Does the Honorable Robert Portman feel that this absolves Congress of
accountability in the matter? I should say it most definitely does not.

Where are the voters now? How can my vote change this? I don't think it
can. If the issue is swept under the rug for 12 years, no voter has any
power over it. What made Specter make his point in 1985? Letters. Enough
letters to make him a bit jumpy as to his chances of reelection. "I did
my part. I made a speech."

Now it's a crisis and of course the politicans will capitalize on it.
"We must beat this crisis! If I am elected, I will do my very best to
see it through!" etc.

And why can't the IRS balance its own books if they expect me to?

I'm not anti-government. But this is bullshit.

Let me rephrase: I'm not anti-government YET.