Great Sites: IRS

If you think the Internal Revenue Service doesn't have a sense of humor, then you've never seen its Web site.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 23, 2001

3 Min Read

If you think the Internal Revenue Service doesn't have a sense of humor, then you've never seen its Web site.

The home page is laid out in lighthearted, mock-newspaper style and uses a humorous story about a stereotypically suburban '50s-style family to explain the Bush administration's recently enacted tax cut. The site's campy facade is a perfect foil for the very serious business of providing millions of Americans with easy access to federal tax information and documents.

All told, the site has become an important factor in helping the IRS revamp its image through a top-to-bottom retooling of the agency and a massive public-relations campaign. It lets the agency have a little fun at its own expense while putting a public face on the new "kinder and gentler" IRS of recent years, says Gregory Carson, the agency's director of electronic tax administration modernization.

At the height of tax season, is one of the most visited sites on the Internet, Carson says, and it's on track to exceed 2 billion page hits this year. Between January and mid-April, the IRS logged 1.3 billion page hits, up 67% from the 791 million hits in the same period last year. In 1996, the site's first year, taxpayers downloaded 3.8 million documents; in 2000, downloads totaled 160.2 million.

IRS - The Digital Daily

Traffic: 1.3 billion page hits from January through mid-April; 160.2 million documents downloaded in 2000

2000 Revenue: Not applicable

Business goals: To provide tax information and forms to the public while softening the IRS's image

Competitors: CCH Essentials, H&R Block, RIA

Strengths: Clean, simple, fun presentation; wide range of documents and other content

Weaknesses: No electronic- tax-filing capabilities

The site is fairly easy to use and is jam-packed with information. Plus, its home page loads quickly on a 56-Kbps dial-up connection. While the site has no gee-whiz features such as animated graphics, scrolling text, audio, or video, Carson says that's consistent with its goal of offering basic tax information and assistance.

The site directs those who need individualized help or information on complex tax matters to local IRS offices for telephone or in-person assistance. It also provides links to other offline sources of tax help, such as tax volunteers and scheduled tax-assistance days. Most of the agency's individualized help is offered offline because the site's security technology isn't strong enough to fully protect the privacy of taxpayer data, Carson says. The IRS is taking steps to bolster security, but it will be several years before the site is secure enough to protect individual taxpayers' sensitive financial information.

Security issues are also at the root of the site's biggest failing--that it isn't set up for online tax filing. The agency simply posts information online about partners in its E-file program that can handle online filing. Even worse, regular taxpayers won't be able to file electronically through the site for several years. The IRS does plan to offer online transactions, but only to professional tax preparers at first. September 2002 is the IRS's target date for launching a system that will let tax professionals conduct secure transactions through the site.

Even so, many taxpayers couldn't be happier with the site. "I downloaded the forms I needed and printed them out on my laser printer, and it was just incredibly easy," says Janet Nace, a Silicon Valley software engineer. "I was amazed

at how much easier it was than going down to the IRS office and standing in line or finding out that they were out of the forms I needed."

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