This week, the House of Representatives passed a number of bills aimed at reforming the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and updating its antiquated systems and policies. These nine bills are the result of dozens of hearings, roundtables, briefings, and meetings conducted by the Ways and Means Committee, of which I am a member. For too long, the IRS has been plagued by inefficiency, poor customer service, and an utter lack of transparency. Marked by scandal and notorious for system outages, the American public deserves better when they are dealing with the agency charged with collecting their hard-earned dollars.
On Tax Day, which fell on April 17 this year, the IRS’s e-file system failed, forcing millions of Americans to wonder if they would be able to file their taxes prior to the midnight deadline. Upon accessing the Direct Pay website, which allows funds to be drafted directly from one’s bank account free of charge, tax filers were greeted by an announcement stating the service would be unavailable due to planned maintenance from April 17, 2018 until December 31, 9999. It went on to say, “note that your tax payment is due although IRS Direct Pay may not be available.”
I can hardly imagine a more frustrating scenario than the one just described. Ironically, the computer hardware in question seems to be relatively new, while underlying technology at the IRS dates back to the 1950s and 60s. In May 2016, the IRS’s chief technology officer, in written testimony before the Congress, compared the system to “operating a 1960’s automobile with the original chassis, suspension and drive train, but with a more modern engine, satellite radio, and a GPS navigation system.” I would certainly like to think the IRS can do better than this with the $11 billion in taxpayer funds it is given annually.
It was with this goal in mind the House passed its series of bills aimed at reforming many of the procedures currently in practice at the IRS. This bipartisan effort, which passed the House almost unanimously, represents the most significant redesign of the IRS undertaken by Congress in 20 years. It includes measures to prevent fraud and identity theft, update aging technology systems, improve customer service, allow the use of credit and debit cards, reduce fees on low-income families, and provide recourse for tax payers to ensure their fair treatment. I am particularly pleased the package contains reforms to ensure the IRS’s seizure authority is limited to rein in previous practices where innocent parties have not been treated with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Most importantly, these long overdue updates will revise the organizational structure and enforcement procedures at the IRS, as well as protect taxpayer identities and revise the agency’s information technology policy. Perhaps best exemplified in the chief executive’s change in title from commissioner to administrator, the purpose of this overhaul is to start the process of transforming the IRS from an oppressive object of hatred and fear into a useful tool which provides timely and efficient customer service.