IRS Website Plans Too Vague, Watchdog Says - InformationWeek
Healthcare // Analytics
04:39 PM
Building Security for the IoT
Nov 09, 2017
In this webcast, experts discuss the most effective approaches to securing Internet-enabled system ...Read More>>

IRS Website Plans Too Vague, Watchdog Says

GAO criticizes the agency for plan to spend $320 million over 10 years to improve its online services without clearly defining what the changes will be.

Slideshow: 12 Worst Government WebSites
Slideshow: 12 Worst Government WebSites
(click for larger image and for full slideshow)
The IRS plans to spend $320 million over 10 years to improve its website, but the agency's plans on how exactly it will do that remain unclear, according to a government watchdog agency.

The IRS has seen increased use of its website over the past several years, and more people are using its e-filing system. In 2011, nearly 80% of individual taxpayer returns were filed electronically, a system that is "more accurate, faster and less expensive for IRS than processing returns filed on paper," according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The taxpayer's overall income-tax filing experience could be improved by even more online tools, according to the watchdog agency, and the IRS said it's focused on meeting that challenge with a new website that it will unveil in 2013.

[ Want to read the latest on government IT? Read our Government Blogs. ]

The IRS might not see a proper return on its planned multi-million-dollar investment, however, because the agency "does not have concrete plans that define what additional online services the new website will ultimately provide and how much the services will cost," according to the report.

To be fair, the GAO said IRS officials have begun working on a roadmap to identify online services it wants to provide, but the roadmap lacks "several fundamental elements," the agency said.

Those elements include allowing taxpayers to view their information online; an assessment of the costs and benefits for the new services; time frames for when the services would be available; and plans to revisit the strategy periodically and make revisions based on IRS's priorities, according to the report.

Choosing services that can reduce the number of phone calls to IRS customer service representatives is key to getting the most out of the new site, according to the GAO.

As it develops its new services, the agency should keep in mind that "the extent to which taxpayers can be diverted to the web will allow IRS to assist them at a much lower cost and more quickly," according to the GAO. Therefore, services or information for which taxpayers otherwise would call the agency's phone lines--where average user wait time has been steadily increasing since 2007, even as the number of calls have decreased--would ease the burden on telephone customer service representatives, according to the agency.

Improved search capabilities also should be a focus of the site. The IRS acknowledged that the reason there has been an increase of traffic to its site is likely because taxpayers are "having difficulties locating information," according to the GAO.

Having a more search-friendly site also will reduce the number of phone calls the IRS receives, and improve the agency's return on its investment, according to the GAO.

Although taxpayers are becoming more confident using the IRS website and in particular its e-filing system, there have been kinks in the service. When the agency rolled out a $524 million e-filing system upgrade in 2010, it initially rejected valid tax returns erroneously.

The GAO also criticized the IRS that same year for cybsersecurity weaknesses that might have put taxpayer information at risk.

For the 15th consecutive year, InformationWeek is conducting its U.S. IT Salary Survey. Upon completion of the survey, you will be eligible to enter a contest for prizes including a Bravia HDTV or iPad 2, and get a link to download our report once it is published. Take the survey now. Survey ends Jan. 27.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll