IRS' Web team sees as a way to cozy up to taxpayers

IRS' Web team sees as a way to cozy up to taxpayers

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Many people would likely describe the phrase 'IRS fan mail' as the ultimate oxymoron.

But the IRS' Electronic Information Services Office, which manages the tax agency's Web site, receives many appreciative notes from taxpayers, EIS chief Linda Wallace said. 'We've even received fan mail from sailors on ships at sea because now they can do their taxes easily internationally' by downloading forms from the IRS site, Wallace said.

Jerry Conway and Linda Wallace of the IRS' Electronic Information Services Office have nurtured The Digital Daily Web site since 1996.

With the April 17 tax filing deadline two weeks away, many taxpayers are scurrying to finish their tax returns. One place many of them will go to for help is

And though many taxpayers visit only in the months or weeks before the April deadline, the EIS staff of 15 works year-round to deliver services through the Web site, whose newspaperlike main page announces the site as The Digital Daily.

Taxpayers 'should be able to go in the middle of the night and get the forms they need,' Wallace said. One of EIS' major aims is to make products available on the Web site to reduce the burden on taxpayers and tax practitioners, she said.

Queries volley

The staff has developed methods to calculate taxes and complete tax forms online. Staff members have also developed three e-mail programs'Digital Dispatch, MailMan and Router'that let taxpayers and IRS service representatives exchange questions and answers.

EIS has also created an online learning lab to teach first-time taxpayers between the ages of 13 and 18 about the tax process, Wallace said.

She said she also has received positive feedback about the Tax Trail feature, which provides yes-or-no answers to complex tax questions. And some taxpayers tell the IRS that they enjoy an online game show called Howard Bickel's Braintaxer, Wallace said.

The site's number of hits shows its increasing popularity and usefulness: The Digital Daily drew 1.2 billion hits last year, 624 million in 1998 and 259 million in 1997.

Wallace said The Digital Daily has been a labor of love. When the rest of the federal government was furloughed by the budget shutdown in 1996, Wallace and her staff launched the Web site on schedule on Jan. 6'even though Washington was in the midst of a blizzard.

She and Jerry Conway, an EIS senior technology adviser, had begun drawing up the blueprints in August 1995, poring over ideas to pull information from all corners of the IRS into an effective package.

'There was a blizzard, but Jerry and I went live anyway,' Wallace said. 'We did not want to be late.'

It stops here

EIS sets all policies and procedures related to electronic information services via the Internet, faxes, electronic bulletin boards and CD-ROMs.

The office is the gatekeeper for a consolidated, front-door approach, Wallace said. It culls a huge volume of information from around the agency to post and transmit in various media, she said.

A thorough technical review and approval process ensures that information distributed electronically is accurate, current, consistent and concise, IRS officials said.

Electronic information and multimedia production specialists help those submitting documents create a package for the Web. IRS divisions, which submit information to EIS, also develop maintenance strategies to manage file uploads and updates.

The IRS requires that documents be reviewed at least twice a year.

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