IRS creates app workaround

What Opal toolkit does

Because IRS programming resources are so heavily dedicated to year 2000 and
modernization programs, the tax agency had to find a workaround for an antiquated
green-screen application that tracks large cash transfers.

Technology managers at the IRS Detroit Computer Center said they had no other choice.

“We didn’t have the time or luxury to go in and rewrite the system, so we had
to look around for something that would make our users happier and more effective,”
said Patricia Donaldson, chief of the Currency Transaction Reporting Branch at the Detroit

The Currency and Banking Retrieval System tracks all cash transactions of $10,000 or
more reported by banks. The IRS developed the system about 12 years ago to meet the
requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act, aimed at controlling illegal drug and
money-laundering activities.

“It was state of the art, and our users could not say enough good things about it.
But that was then,” Donaldson said. “It doesn’t do what our users want

The currency and banking application, written in Cobol, uses the CA-IDMS hierarchical
database manager from Computer Associates International Inc. IDMS allows limited data
access without reprogramming. But IRS users often changed their minds about what they
needed, and the programming staff would have to create new database fields, Donaldson
said. “We were able to react—but slowly,” she said.

While updating the Cobol application, the IRS came up with an unusual way around the
inflexibility problem that even the software vendors doubted would work.

The tax agency used Focus database integration tools from Information Builders Inc. of
New York to map the IDMS database to an NCR Teradata relational database management system
from NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio.

Teradata stores the database indexes and passes them back to IDMS, “which is
extremely fast at getting data once you know the keys,” Donaldson said. Users now can
search on any field in any record, including narrative portions of records.

Donaldson said the data access improvements are significant, given the database
size—244G—and characteristics. The IDMS database has seven schemas, 57 areas and
620 record types.

The currency and banking system contains 100 million documents and 1.7 billion records.
The 14,225 system users, including employees of 12 different federal agencies and 50 state
governments, constantly update it throughout the year via more than 144,000
PC-to-mainframe sessions. They make about 1.6 million separate queries each year,
averaging 6,660 per workday.

To complement the data access improvements, IRS programmers masked the old green
screens with newer PC graphics developed with the Opal toolkit from Computer Associates.

“We’re dealing with a user community that really likes the mouse and
graphics,” Donaldson said. “They want pictures and quick access to data.”

The Opal screens display mixed font sizes, drop-down menus and colors. Users enter only
a task code, user ID and password. “The Opal screens select the data and know the
correct codes because we’ve told them what to do,” Donaldson said.

Only IRS users with fairly recent Pentium PCs can use the Opal screens, Donaldson said,
but the number of suitable PCs is growing rapidly.  

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