Beware a too-timid IRS

Beware a too-timid IRS

Thomas R. Temin

I still shudder whenever I recall a major addition my wife and I undertook on our first house. Talk about a grand design.

Trouble began when we chose the wrong guy to draw the plans. The blueprints turned out to be a bit sketchy for the builder. But that didn't matter to the hack hired to do the work'an ex-convict, we learned later. He was good at nothing so much as improvisation. There was lots of building, tearing out, rebuilding and revision of plans.

Eventually, he finished the job. It seemed to take forever, stretching through part of a pregnancy and on through the first birthday of my son.

Then we spent half as much money again for a good contractor to come in and set things right. His only mistake was leaving an expensive level on the roof of a bow window before he boxed it in with cabinetmaker precision. It lies there still, hidden away, unknown to the current owners and not to be found for decades or centuries, when the house is razed or falls down.

I imagine systems remodelers at the IRS know this feeling of a job stretching on, seemingly without end. They have, more than once, come close to making a major step, only to retreat to the blueprint stage.

'We don't want to bite off more than we can chew,' said Paul Cosgrave, the IRS' chief information officer [GCN, Feb. 21, Page 3]. That seems wise. In light of the long and tortured history of tax systems modernization, the glacial pace of the current assault is probably a good thing.

But if the planning goes on much longer without the IRS making significant and demonstrable progress, the program will run smack into a change of administrations, and that will mean changes at the top.

Because work on updating IRS systems has been going on since the Reagan administration, there's no reason to think it won't remain a priority for whoever is elected in November. Still, changes in leadership bring delays, if for no other reason than a new crew will want time to understand what it has walked into.

Every step IRS managers take gets triple the normal scrutiny from lawmakers, the agency's constituents and employees. Let's hope the agency doesn't become so gun-shy that it fails to embark on any projects, even those it believes it can do.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Internet: editor@gcn.com

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