Full speed ahead at IRS or back to the drawing board?

The point-counterpoint arguments continued this month about whether the IRS and its contractor have succeeded in getting the agency's systems overhaul moving in the right direction.

The IRS Prime contractor, Computer Sciences Corp., held a series of press briefings to tell its side of the story, specifically that it is gaining traction in righting the troubled IRS Business Systems Modernization project.

Meanwhile, the IRS Oversight Board has expressed serious doubts about the upgrade of the taxpayer database, the centerpiece of IRS modernization.

Larry Levitan, chairman of the board's Business Transformation Committee, said CSC and the IRS have made some progress in implementing the recommendations the board made in November to improve management and get the modernization back on track. But he said the Customer Account Data Engine, the database to replace the flat-file Master File of taxpayer records, is in danger of failure.

Plus, according to Levitan, another major piece of the modernization project, the Integrated Financial System, recently slid further behind schedule.

The first release of CADE, which will replace the 40-year-old tape-based Master File with a relational database of taxpayer records, is expected in August. The initial version will provide interfaces between the old and new databases and create a foundation on which all future CADE releases will build.

Once CADE's first phase is completed, the next step, testing the business rules engine, is fraught with uncertainty and complexity, Levitan said.

Testing the rules engine

'If [the engine] proves to be unsuccessful, and I'm not giving you any indication that it is'we don't know yet'then all of the work we've done on CADE up to now doesn't mean a lot,' Levitan said. 'And we're going to have to go back to the drawing board because all of the assumptions on the time frame, cost and effort of both building and maintaining CADE are based on using this product.'

The board had recommended that the effort to prove that the business rules engine will work be treated as a separate major project.

Paul Cofoni, president of CSC's federal sector, said the company proposed to the IRS this month a $1 million task order to study the engine's performance. CSC wants to make sure the engine will generate the throughput and productivity needed to deliver the code for 240,000 rules for future CADE releases.

As to the Integrated Financial System, no traction has been gained. The initial release of this core accounting system is now set for October, after CSC and the IRS missed an April release date.

Despite the potential for CADE and IFS problems, however, the IRS Oversight Board does see progress in the overall project management of modernization effort, Levitan said.

'I think that both the IRS and the Prime team have been taking significant steps to improve the environment, processes and skills of the people,' he said. 'The Prime team is trying very, very hard to do the right thing and to get the job done.'

But with the delay of the IFS release, 'the board is very concerned that the prime does not have the capability to really provide the leadership of the program,' Levitan said. 'All we can do is look at results. The results have been consistently inadequate, which leads us to question whether they have the capability to pull this off.'

The tax agency and the contractor have set milestones for each of the modernization projects this year. CSC missed every one of them last year. 'Hopefully we are in a better position this year, and we make those targets,' Cofoni said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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