IRS dropped the ball on Linux migration, IG says

Although the tax agency planned to move 141 legacy applications from Solaris to Linux, only eight have been migrated and more than one third have not even started.

Although a planned operating system migration at the IRS was expected to yield significant long-term savings, the tax agency has only able to move eight of 141 legacy applications from a proprietary to an open source OS as of February 2018.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration put the blame on poor IT governance, according to Dec. 6 audit.

Under a migration plan developed in 2014, two-thirds of targeted applications and databases were supposed to have been successfully transitioned to the new OS by December 2016 under a move that would reduce hardware, software and maintenance costs.

The applications were moving from Solaris -- proprietary software originally developed by Sun Microsystems and now owned by Oracle -- to IBM’s zLinux running on IBM mainframes. The plan was that the IRS could install the open-source OS "on an unlimited number of computers and systems without paying for software or licensing," the audit stated.

However, only eight of the 141 applications targeted have successfully transitioned to Linux. More than one third have not even started. Further, the agency has underutilized the zLinux hardware and support it purchased in September 2016 for $6.8 million, activating only 56 of the 262 available zLinux CPUs, the audit said.

An internal cost assessment found that migrating just one system, a modernized e-file system, to Linux would save the agency around $12 million over five years in licensing fees.

Auditors pointed the finger at poor planning by IT officials. For example, many of the staff assigned to the project turned out not to have training in how to set up or support a Linux environment.

"Prior to implementation, the IRS did not develop an initial project plan, or conduct upfront assessments and technical analysis on the applications and databases that were to be migrated," auditors wrote.

One major theme underlying many of the delays is confusion and lack of coordination among IT staff assigned to the project from different offices within IRS. The project was designed as a collaborative operation between employees from Enterprise Operations, Enterprise Services, Applications Development and Cybersecurity and was overseen by an executive steering committee and a technical advisory group.

A charter was drafted to hash out intra-agency roles and responsibilities, but as of February 2018, it remained unsigned.

Auditors made three recommendations: that IRS assign the project to a governance board aligned with the IT shop's framework and process, ensure that hardware, software, services and support include utilization plans and develop a disaster recovery and business continuity strategy.

The report cited IRS estimates that the agency expects to complete migration of all targeted applications by fiscal year 2020, and in a response attached to the audit, CIO Gina Garza accepted all three recommendations and said the modernized e-file system will be the first priority for the agency in 2019.

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