IRS knows it has to do it right this time

IRS knows it has to do it right this time

Al Mazei is managing the IRS' modernization effort. The Treasury Department agency in December recommitted itself to upgrading its antiquated tax system by awarding the 15-year Prime contract'potentially worth $5 billion'to Computer Sciences Corp.

Mazei, assistant commissioner of the Program Management and Architecture Office, manages the cost and technical aspects of the modernization initiative. He is a principal adviser to chief information officer Paul Cosgrave.

The decision to hire a vendor to oversee the effort represents a dramatic change in the mind-set of tax agency officials. A few years ago, officials viewed the project as an agency-run effort. But after spending 10 years and $4 billion, the IRS saw little noticeable improvement and was attracting intense congressional scrutiny.

Mazei joined the IRS last year. Before that, he was a senior vice president and the CIO at BTG Inc. of Fairfax, Va., where he led the company's internal information systems organization.

He has a bachelor's degree in engineering physics with a nuclear elective from Ohio State University and a master's degree in public administration with a concentration in information systems from Auburn University.

GCN staff writer Frank Tiboni interviewed Mazei during a conference in Vienna, Va.

GCN:'Does the IRS have the expertise to manage the Prime contract?

MAZEI: The IRS does, in fact, have the expertise to manage the contract. It was part of what commissioner Charles Rossotti has started doing, which is bringing in expertise from the outside. He has also put extensive emphasis on training and working very closely with Computer Sciences Corp. for knowledge transfer.

We are doing an awful lot in the building of additional knowledge within our organization so that as we move forward, we will be thoroughly capable of doing everything necessary to manage the process.

GCN:'Can you give a few more details?

MAZEI: There has been a governance process put in place from the highest part of the organization. We have the Core Business Systems Executive Steering Committee, chaired by the commissioner, and it consists of the senior heads of the organization. The committee oversees everything we do.

My organization provides staff work to the committee, bringing in front of them all the different tasks we're planning. The committee reviews the details of the plans and gives approval.

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We quickly saw that the amount of work that was going to be necessary would require a lot of time by the committee. So we put in place subcommittees to oversee major portions of the work. Any piece of work being contemplated, or that happens, goes through multiple reviews before it gets the approval to move forward. That's a significant process already in place.

We also put in place a program management office that is a mirror to the same type of an organization that the Prime contractor has put in place. This lets us manage the overall process and integrate the process completely across the IRS.

Because of certain situations, we have numerous oversight organizations that we are working extremely closely with. One is the IRS Management Board. We also have a close working relationship with the General Accounting Office and the Office of Management and Budget so that as we go forward we meet all the requirements they have put in place for us to do things right.

GCN:'Why did IRS officials change their mind-set and opt to have a vendor take over the modernization effort?

MAZEI: There's not so much a change of mind-set among the current team. It is certainly a change from what the IRS has done in the past.

We realize this is such a significant effort that we need to bring as much expertise in from the outside as possible. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world to bring in a world-class organization that is supported by other world-class organizations to work with us in partnership to make this thing happen.

We also realize that as a government organization we cannot obtain all of the high-priced technical talent that's necessary to do this right.

GCN:'What is the status of the Prime contract? What will the new systems architecture look like?

MAZEI: There was an overall architecture developed in late 1997 called the modernization blueprint. That document is the road map that we're following. The blueprint put together a sequencing plan to make sure that we're doing all the work necessary.

Since then, a lot of change has taken place. We are now looking at the road map, what changes have taken place and resequencing the blueprint. That's the work we're intimately involved in right now that we'll complete in September.

When that is finished, we will have a business systems plan that has looked at all the activities that we need to do for the modernization: prioritize them, sequence them, put in place the business cases, get the business cases approved and start moving forward. It's a review of all the things that have taken place to date including the reorganization of the IRS.

We were one large organization when the blueprint was put together. We are now separate organizations based on four major business lines. That has to be reflected in the work that we do and how we sequence the plan.

There are a lot of other things we are also looking at. The Electronic Tax Administration, which oversees electronic filing, has been moved up in importance because we really have to roll that out much quicker than the blueprint had laid out. We're moving and resequencing that, showing how it relates to everything else that we're doing.

We also have work that is being rolled out for a personnel system that is being resequenced. All of those activities have to be looked at to see what the costs are, how they impact personnel and dollars, and when they have to be put in place. That's the work that we're trying to do so that we don't go off and have tangential or redundant activities as we move forward.

GCN:'What will the end system look like?

MAZEI: It's too early to tell. Certainly, a lot of what we're trying to accomplish is to make it extremely easy for the taxpayers to get access to their information and work well with the IRS.

Part of that is making information available online and submitting taxes online. We want to have 80 percent of taxes filed online by 2007. We believe we will be able to meet that goal.

Technology has changed significantly since the early 1990s, but we're looking to have a lot of Web-based access. If you look at the IRS Web page, we already provide a lot of information online.

For example, forms can be downloaded. We're looking to simplify that, expand on it and make it much easier for people to submit their information. We want to make it so that if someone electronically files and there are no issues associated with that filing, we could turn around the refund in three to five days.

GCN:'Why did you leave private industry to take on this monstrous task?

MAZEI: I'm responsible for overseeing the Prime contract, in essence making sure that the IRS spends its money wisely and we get to an end result that is in keeping with what we want to do.

The reason I came on board is that I used to work with the IRS commissioner. I have a great deal of admiration for him and the projects he tries to undertake. And when he said he wanted to take on the modernization of the IRS, I felt that I would like to be involved and support him in that project.

GCN:'What are your early successes in overseeing the Prime contract?

MAZEI: The formation of the committees is one. The establishment of the teams moving forward, building the processes that we need to follow. Another success is helping modify the methodology and start rolling out the methodology to all the teams that will be using it. Also, building the partnership between our organization and the Prime and all of the subcontractors.

Also, we've had several miniprojects, one of which was a workshop that got everyone in a room to understand what we're trying to accomplish. We explained the goals we're trying to set, the modernization plans of the commissioner and getting them put in place.

GCN:'Will the modernization effort work this time?

MAZEI: I have a high degree of confidence right now. I know that it's a significant effort. Every time you learn a little bit more, you realize how significant the effort is. But I wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't still be here if I thought that there was a significant chance of failure. I think everyone understands the importance of doing it right this time.

We have also opened the channels of communication. We've realized where we've made false steps in the past, and we're taking a step-by-step approach to make sure that we don't go way off the beaten path in this process. We have had all the interested stakeholders involved from the very beginning.

There is a tremendous amount of effort under way for communication, and we have to continue doing that.

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