GAO: IRS can do a better job tracking IT performance

A GAO report recommends that the IRS improve its performance measurement and reporting practices for $2.7 billion worth of IT investments.

IRS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com)

The IRS has not fully documented the way it prioritizes $2.7 billion in IT investments, which makes it difficult to ensure that processes are transparent and consistent with best practices, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Auditors said documentation for investments in operations and maintenance was incomplete, and modernization activities lacked a structured documentation process altogether.

In response, IRS officials said modernization investments contain fewer competing activities than operations, so having a structured process is not as critical.

In compiling the report, auditors reviewed six IT investments and determined that they were under budget and on schedule, but only two -- the Mainframes and Servers Services and Support and the Telecommunications Systems and Support -- generally fulfilled performance goals.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Return Review Program (RRP) consistently used a "level of effort" measure for work completed by IRS staff -- a metric that is designed to be used sparingly in part because it assumes projects are proceeding according to established schedules. Overuse of the metric limits accuracy and transparency in reporting, GAO said.

The last two projects -- the Customer Account Data Engine 2 and the Affordable Care Act Administration -- lack full documentation and reporting on planned versus actual performance goals.

GAO recommended that the IRS fully document its processes for prioritizing IT investments, de-emphasize the level-of-effort metric and report on performance goals for CADE 2 and Affordable Care Act Administration at least quarterly, as the agency does for FATCA and RRP.

In his response to GAO, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen agreed with the recommendations regarding the agency's prioritization practices. However, he disagreed with the recommendation about how it calculates its performance information, saying measuring employee work differently "would add immense burden on IRS' programs on various fronts and would outweigh the value it provides."

IRS officials did not agree or disagree with the quarterly reporting recommendation, instead noting that the agency is trying to improve its reporting processes.

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