IRS' newest blueprint gets down to business

IRS' newest blueprint gets down to business

Latest modernization plan adds details on how the agency will go about updating its systems and processes

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

In its latest modernization blueprint, the IRS does something it did not do in its early systems design plans: It details how technology will support the service's business process overhaul.

'The 1997 blueprint did not define to any great extent the business processes,' said IRS' former chief information officer Paul Cosgrave, who left the agency this month to take a private-sector job. 'This document is driven by business processes. It is a very extensive effort to look at a whole new way of processing taxes.'

The issuance of the blueprint caps Cosgrave's two-year stint at the agency. He joined the IRS in July 1998 as a consultant and became CIO the following month. During his tenure, the service essentially threw out its earlier plans for overhauling its tax processing systems and decided that it needed not only to update antiquated technology but revise the way it worked.

And though the IRS has spent nearly two decades trying to modernize its tax systems, its most recent efforts have been getting praise. For instance, the IRS received one of former Vice President Gore's final Hammer awards for government reinvention efforts (see Page 45). Gore lauded the modernization plans, particularly the proposals for expanding online services.

During a briefing on the new blueprint, which the IRS released Jan. 11, Cosgrave emphasized that the agency is 'not only bringing in new technology but changing the way it's done.'

As an example, he pointed to a plan to develop an interactive online program that would let customers get data quickly and accurately via the Web and through e-mail exchanges with IRS staff members.

Another online initiative calls for three portals to give taxpayers, businesses and internal employees access to tax information.

The agency and a team of vendors led by Computer Sciences Corp. under the Prime contract developed the document.

The blueprint, IRS Enterprise Architecture 1.0, also details the agency's plans to retire its antiquated Master File system.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">IRS' Bert Conklin, left, and former CIO Paul Cosgrave agree that time and precision are of the essence in replacing legacy systems.

The mainframe system, which is written in assembly language and still requires the mailing of tapes among IRS processing centers, is the lifeblood of the IRS. It is the storehouse of information about the nation's taxpayers, both individuals and businesses. Implemented during the Kennedy administration, the Master File relies on batch processing to make weekly updates to its records.

'Frankly, if we don't do something about it in the next five to six years, no one will know how to use it,' Cosgrave said.

Bert Concklin, director of the IRS Business Systems Modernization Office, said the agency couldn't afford to make any mistakes while introducing new technology into its legacy systems environment.

As part of that precaution, the new plan delves into information assurance, especially as data protection relates to the service's online push.

Security has always been a frontline item for the IRS and was a paramount issue in the 1997 blueprint, too. But IRS officials said the earlier plans failed to provide enough detail.

Also unlike the early plan, IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti said, the new strategy is intertwined with the service's mission. 'We have focused on defining the business processes, key philosophies and technology for tax administration functions and supporting infrastructure,' he said.

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