An IRS systems chief goes back to school

An IRS systems chief goes back to school

Having guided the Electronic Tax Administration's first steps, Stephen Holden turns to new career

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Stephen H. Holden, modernization program executive for the IRS' Electronic Tax Administration, will leave the service next month for a teaching post at the University of Maryland's Baltimore County campus.

Holden said he wanted to try a job that would let him merge his public service experience with his academic knowledge. While working for the federal government, he studied part-time for 10 years, working toward a doctorate in public administration and affairs from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Beginning in the fall, he will be an assistant professor in UMBC's Information Systems Department.

Holden also plans to research information systems management and policies. 'I will be focusing on digital government and electronic-government initiatives in the private and public sectors,' he said. 'I will research on things I learned at the Office of Management and Budget and the IRS.'

The move to academia ends a 16-year career with the federal government, which began in 1983 when Holden became a presidential management intern at the Naval Sea Systems Command. He worked for 10 years at OMB doing policy, management and budget analyses before joining the IRS in 1994.

At the IRS, Holden first worked as a program manager in the now-defunct Business Transition Office, eventually becoming its director.

When the IRS created the Electronic Tax Administration in 1997, Holden volunteered to become its first national director of electronic program enhancements.

'I was interested in it because it was directly responsible for program delivery,' Holden said.

As part of his job, he worked with the IRS Prime contractor, Computer Sciences Corp. The modernization project, among other goals, aims to fulfill a congressional mandate that the IRS by 2007 process 80 percent of all tax returns electronically.

To reach that target, the IRS has been developing a slate of online programs that it dubbed E-Services. Initially, the agency planned to begin providing the services next year, but it now plans to roll out E-Services in 2002.

'We just felt we needed to work with the policy and technology and get the infrastructure right,' Holden said. 'We take taxpayer privacy and confidentiality so seriously; it was not worth the risk.'

At the twilight of his IRS career, Holden said he foresees the agency facing a handful of major challenges in the next few years.

Challenges ahead

He identified electronic access and taxpayer privacy as obstacles the IRS must overcome to meet the congressional filing mandate.

The two elements will be essential in gaining customer acceptance, especially privacy, he said. 'Meeting the mandate depends on consumer acceptance,' Holden said. 'Will the comfort level go up fast enough?'

Cultural change within the IRS is, however, the most significant hurdle, he said.

'The burden of proof is on the person introducing the change,' Holden said. 'It is imperative to communicate why change is important. It's a combination of folks understanding how it will improve the taxpayer experience and how it will make the IRS work more efficiently.'

The IRS' recent reorganization into offices based on function rather than region bodes well for its ability to implement change, Holden said.

'I think it has given [employees] confidence we can survive change,' he said.

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