It's Reece's turn

Thomas R. Temin

When John C. Reece talks about his plans for the IRS, it's difficult not to be skeptical and hopeful simultaneously.

Modernization of IRS systems and business processes stands as a kind of Mount Everest of federal projects, serenely resistant to the efforts of nearly a generation of executives.

Reece, only a couple of months into his job as deputy commissioner for modernization and chief information officer, just might be the one to push the effort over the top. If so, he won't have done it single-handedly. After all, the Prime contract with Computer Sciences Corp. has been in place for two years, and the agency has succeeded in creating a modernization blueprint that offers real guidance on projects.

And, to be fair, the agency is not completely inept. The massive mobilization to get refund checks out under the recent tax bill shows that the IRS harbors people who can get big and complex tasks done under extreme time pressure [GCN, July 2, Page 1]. Often, in congressional hearings and in the mass media, the IRS' real problems have been misrepresented with grotesque images.

Yet there are signs that the Prime effort is starting to spin out of control, jeopardizing the latest assault on the mountain, to say nothing of the billions of dollars and last hope for confidence in the agency it represents. In short, the potential for disaster is real.

Along comes Reece, an outsider who was called from retirement by IRS commissioner Charles O. Rossotti. Reece turned 64 last month, he likes to point out. On the circuit podium, he comes across as a jovial warrior, the kind of guy you'd want to play Santa Claus in the local Christmas pageant. Up close, one observes a steely resolve and intolerance for delay or misunderstanding of details'the kind of guy you'd want to run something like IRS modernization.

Reece has moved to tighten up organization and accountability of the Business Systems Modernization Office and Information Technology Services groups and of relations with Prime contractor CSC. He appears to have quickly sized up the agency and how to get modernization on track. Let's hope he's right.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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