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The IRS Really Needs Some New Computers


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#1 JohnC_21

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 03:58 PM

The tax agency's embrace of IBM in the 1950s helped drive down audit rates. It's still depending on the same code.

Though the IRS has periodically upgraded its computing system, today’s system is still running the same code, which was written nearly 60 years ago. Most of it is in the Assembly programming language, which the IRS itself has described as “antiquated” and “inflexible.” Worse, the number of programmers who can understand and maintain the code behind the Individual Master File (IMF) dwindles with every passing year. According to the Government Accountability Office, the IMF and its business counterpart (the BMF) are the oldest computing systems used by the federal government. (The runner-up in this dubious contest is the software used to coordinate the nation’s nuclear weapons.)

 

Plans to replace the IMF with a twenty-first-century equivalent known as CADE (Customer Account Data Engine) have faltered. The transition is now well behind schedule. As a consequence, the likelihood of a catastrophic computer failure during tax season increases with every passing year. That may not pose quite the same danger as an errant missile, but the prospect of lost refund checks, unnecessary audits, and other errors suggests that the time has come to bring the IRS into the 21st century.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-04-17/the-irs-computer-system-is-the-oldest-in-the-government

 

 

 



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#2 hamluis

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 04:44 PM

If there is anything that I detest...it's someone who purports to know left from right, up from down, and so on...writes an "opihion" column in all-pervasive media...and appears to cricize something that fundamentally wrong with her/his universe.

 

I find it laughable that an "associater professor of history" has the temerity to write and post a meaningless column/article...about IRS and the IRS computer system :).  I think he should stick to writing lesson plans for his lectures to U of GA students.  I'm still trying to figure out if this article was intended to just be plain fun...because it surely isn't informative in any manner.

 

For those who don't know...GAO is one of the many Government agencies...that conduct periodic routine procedural audits of other FedGove agencies.  The GAO does not concern itself with employing/updating computer systems within the many arms of FedGov.

 

London Bridge is not falling down :).

 

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#3 JohnC_21

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 04:53 PM

Actually, Louis, I was more worried about the US nuclear program running on old floppies.

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/26/479588478/report-u-s-nuclear-system-relies-on-outdated-technology-such-as-floppy-disks



#4 Orange Blossom

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 01:20 PM

As a matter of fact, there WAS an IRS computer crash yesterday, so folks have wound up with an extra day to pay their taxes.  I heard about it on NPR this morning.

 

A couple links to news articles concerning it:

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/us/politics/want-to-pay-your-taxes-come-back-later-says-irs.html

 

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/17/irs-payment-system-crashes-528824


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#5 Chris Cosgrove

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 06:22 PM

According to 'The Register' David Kautter, Acting Commissioner IRS, told a House Oversight Committee -

 

 

Of the IRS hardware, 59 per cent of it is obsolete," said Kautter. "Thirty-two percent of its software is at least two updates behind, so that it out of date."

 

Full story -  http://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/04/17/irs_systems_stumble/

 

But the USA's IRS is by no means the only government department with IT woes, their UK opposite numbers, the HMRC, have had to backpedal a major income tax system upgrade to attempt to meet the even more pressing requirements of the import/export duties problems brought on by Brexit. I will not weary you with a list of other government IT projects which are over-budget and over-due or, if in place, only partially meeting their objectives. The evidence is that governments, all governments, are not very good at IT.

 

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is generally good advice but equipments and systems wear out and sooner or later have to be replaced, and the longer the replacement is put off the harder and more expensive the task is. And this is something that public bodies of all descriptions have never taken to heart.

 

Chris Cosgrove



#6 JohnC_21

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Posted 18 April 2018 - 07:32 PM

Chris, isn't NHS still using XP?



#7 Chris Cosgrove

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Posted 19 April 2018 - 06:48 PM

I believe they still have some but mostly as I understand it in control applications. However if you have, say, a whole body scanner controlled by software running on an XP machine how do you get the data from the scan to the consultant who requested it without using some form of network ?

 

This is where that particular security risk comes in. However the basic weakness in the NHS was money for maintenance, a significant number of computing systems were way behind on patching and updating, and some of these unapplied patches were the very ones released by MS to counteract the threat of Wannacry. Our National Audit Office (~ GAO) gave them serious telling off for this.

 

XP machines are safe so long as they are not networked. I have one in my charge which is used roughly once a week for scoring competitions and for 10 minutes back at my home when I get the data off it by memory stick to update the web-site. This is done on my desktop, the XP laptop never goes near the internet. In fact it cannot since its internal wifi doesn't work and hasn't for a number of years !

 

To add to our NHS, I believe our tax organisation - HMRC - still has a rapidly reducing number of XP computers. The OS that would not die indeed !

 

Chris Cosgrove



#8 britechguy

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Posted 19 April 2018 - 07:53 PM

. . . this is something that public bodies of all descriptions have never taken to heart.

 

 

It ain't just public sector bureaucracies.   When I was working at a major telecommunications company in the USA from the mid-1980s through late 1990s they were still writing and maintaining major systems in COBOL, which should tell you something.  Luckily I ended up in the UNIX side of the house on a tiny project that got larger, but still nothing like the COBOL/mainframe systems (which, by the way, the project I worked on monitored - how peculiar is that?).


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