IRS hardware is up to form

IRS hardware is up to form

Agency's document capture program does fast work on short returns

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

In a few short steps, SCRIPS digitizes income tax return data, archives it and speeds it to IRS mainframes for further processing.

The IRS system that captures images of several short but vital tax forms has new server hardware just in time for the peak tax-filing season.

The Service Center Recognition Image Processing System (SCRIPS), a document capture program in use at five IRS centers across the country, now has scalable, four-way Hewlett-Packard Co. servers, said Steve Vivirito, SCRIPS project manager for upgrade contractor Logicon Inc. of Herndon, Va.

The new servers have extra capacity in case the tax agency chooses to divert more types of paper forms to SCRIPS, Vivirito said.

SCRIPS uses optical character recognition and image processing to capture data from several families of IRS forms: 1040EZ, the simplest individual income tax form; the 1099 series of nonwage income reports; 1098 statements of home mortgage and student loan interest; and forms for federal tax deposits from corporations.

The initial SCRIPS pilot started in Cincinnati in 1994. The system went live at five service centers in 1995. Last summer, SCRIPS scanned its 500 millionth tax form [GCN, Aug. 2, 1999, Page 3].

Early last year, the IRS began an $8 million upgrade of the SCRIPS servers from NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio. It chose new HP 9000 Model N4000 servers. They were so new, in fact, that Logicon had to test them under a nondisclosure arrangement with HP, Vivirito said.

Set for a while

John Miller, product line manager for the HP business unit that makes N-Class servers, said the N4000 machines were introduced last April.

'The IRS had a strong desire to go with state-of-the-art technology that would be modular and carry them into the future,' Vivirito said. 'We don't have to do another server upgrade or software transition for a long time.'

Last summer the IRS and Logicon piloted an N4000 server at the Cincinnati processing center. It went live in August, and Logicon finished installing another new server at each of the four other SCRIPS centers by the end of October.

The N4000 servers run HP-UX 11, and each has four 360-MHz PA-8500 RISC processors and 2G of memory, Vivirito said. SCRIPS processing centers are in Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Ogden, Utah.

A sixth server went to the New Carrollton Federal Building in New Carrollton, Md., for IRS testing and development work. Two more servers remain at Logicon's development facility in Reston, Va., for future work under the contract.

Logicon officials want to test future changes to SCRIPS 'in a productionlike environment to minimize the risk in the field.' SCRIPS is mission-critical for processing federal tax deposits from corporations''the money that's coming in to the government,' Vivirito said.

The quarterly federal tax deposits must be processed the same day they arrive, said Mona Henby, SCRIPS program manager. That significantly constrains system downtime and backup time.

Prior to SCRIPS, information on paper forms had to be manually typed into an IRS computer, Vivirito said.

SCRIPS uses high-speed scanners from Scan-Optics Inc. of Manchester, Conn., to print a document-control number on each original form and read its information.

A 400G HP RAID system temporarily stores the information during SCRIPS processing, Vivirito said. For the archival storage required by law, SCRIPS has a 14-inch write-once/read-many optical storage system.

Route to human

SCRIPS can recognize all the characters on many forms, especially if they are machine-printed. But it can also detect when not enough characters were recognized. Then SCRIPS flags a form and routes its image to a human operator, who tries to decipher the characters.

'There's a lot of validation and verification to make sure that the recognition, and also the operator entry, is correct,' Vivirito said.

By reducing the amount of typing, the IRS has made large productivity gains, especially on the 1040EZ forms whose error rate has dropped significantly, Vivirito said. 'Errors are usually caught in the downstream processing,' he said.

SCRIPS processing rates vary throughout the year and even by month, Henby said. The peak season for Form 1040EZ is February through April, and late forms trickle in the rest of the year.

The 1099 informational returns are processed from January through an August cutoff date. Federal tax deposits come in throughout the year.

In its busiest week, SCRIPS handled almost 4 million forms, Vivirito said. The system has averaged 100 million to 120 million forms per year.

Ironically, just as the server upgrade enlarges SCRIPS' capacity, the workload is starting to decrease. That's because some 1040EZ filers have switched to TeleFile, which lets them submit returns via telephone keypads. Also, some federal tax deposits now arrive electronically.

SCRIPS has been handling only about 50 percent of the 1040EZ forms, but the IRS has proposed using it for all 1040EZ forms filed in 2001. The 10 IRS service centers now accept 1040EZs, but five centers do not have SCRIPS.

If the IRS makes the change, some taxpayers would have to send their 1040EZ forms to service centers different from those of their 1040-filing neighbors.

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