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1998-04-07 20:34:42


IRS Ex-CIOs Say: IRS Will Make It



Two previous Chief Information Officers of the IRS -- both out of office today -- say that the IRS is on schedule. Neither explains how this can possibly be true.

This report mistakenly identifies Arthur Gross as the CIO. He resigned in February.

This appreared on the CBN News page -- Pat Robertson's operation -- on March 30.

* * * * * * *

It's the year 2000 computer crisis, the "millenium bug" buried in millions of lines of computer code, over 80 mainframes and hundreds of thousands of workstations scattered through IRS centers nationwide.

"It's probably the most massive system that exists for anybody to have to deal with for this year 2000 problem," says Hank Philcott, the IRS Chief Information Officer from 1990-1995.

For five years, Hank Philcott was the IRS computer guru. He says every date-dependent system must be checked and upgraded before the turn of the century. . . .

"The mission-critical systems comprise 126 different applications," says Arthur Gross, the current IRS C.I.O. "Of those, we have fully renovated 75. And perhaps, more importantly, we are on schedule to timely, complete renovation of those mission-critical systems." . . .

To do that, the IRS has devoted 650 programmers and 250 contractors full-time. The challenge will be holding on to those experts as Y2K demand lures programmers to higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

"The IRS has just granted a pretty significant pay increase to those people to keep them during this critical period," says Philcott.

That's sure to inflate compliance costs to taxpayers above the current billion-dollar estimate. But taxpayers could pay in other ways if an unforeseen computer glitch occurs.

"Someone's going to get affected," says tax agent Michael Martin. "Someone's going to get a bill. God forbid, someone's going to get a levy notice on their bank account because the computer says they owe money they didn't owe."

Martin is an enrolled tax agent, someone the IRS certifies to defend taxpayers before the IRS. He predicts that confused computers could fail to credit workers for taxes withheld by employers, or indicate that taxpayers failed to report all income. IRS computers could calculate interest owed from the year 1900 instead of 2000. They could also misapply payments on installment agreements and declare taxpayers in default.

"Which means they're back to where they were however many years ago, owing all the taxes they owe then, plus increased penalty and interest, and we have to get the offer reinstated," says Martin.

Philcott says that's not likely to happen. "I think the IRS tackled the problem early enough and has been adequately funded, that while there might be an increase in some small problems and pockets of things, I don't think there will be a massive failure."


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