IRS: Tell it like it is

More than 1 500 IRS employees have been accused of thumbing through the tax returns of friends rivals and Hollywood celebrities. At the same time the General Accounting Office revealed that the agency still suffers from "serious weaknesses" in the controls it uses to safeguard IRS computer systems facilities and taxpayer information. Not surprised? That's part of the problem.

While computer security problems are certainly not unique to the IRS the agency's IT woes are complicated by a certain amount of baggage. The IRS faces an uphill battle in convincing Congress and the general public that its efforts to correct security concerns are sincere. While some agencies with highly publicized IT failures can put into place strategic plans and management oversight boards to restore confidence the IRS needs to go the extra step. At a time when taxpayers' faith in government is low IRS officials cannot expect the public to believe them when they say "Trust us we are fixing things."

Increasingly agencies have found a need to prove they deserve public support in the private sector this is called marketing. To its credit the IRS recently took out ads in major newspapers to aid in its search for senior IT professionals - visible evidence that it is heeding advice that it bring new blood into the agency. And in public hearings chief information officer Arthur Gross has demonstrated a welcome frankness about the agency's problems.

We support the IRS' plans to review its security policies and in general beef up its strategy for managing its modernization efforts. But perhaps the agency should take a hard look at abandoning its defensive crouch and taking its story directly to the public.

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