IRS CIO lays out agenda

In his first public address as chief information officer for the Internal Revenue Service, Paul Cosgrave last week mapped out his plans to modernize the agency's computer systems and improve customer service at the embattled IRS.

This summer, IRS reform legislation was approved to keep the agency on track to modernize its infrastructure. The measure, the most sweeping reform of the tax collections agency since 1952, focused mainly on revamping the IRS to make it more taxpayer-friendly and to curb abuses by aggressive agents, which are goals Cosgrave said he wants to support by improving the agency's use of information technology.

Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management, Cosgrave said his vision for the IRS includes installing a standardized computer system, organizing a new management team, lobbying for a larger computer-training budget, encouraging staff to be more customer-friendly and rewriting the agency's mission statement to include the phrase "service to taxpayers."

Also, Cosgrave said he will divide the agency into four major business centers housed with specially trained employees to answer taxpayers' questions concerning particular issues such as wages, investments and income.

Currently, IRS workers respond to a variety of inquiries, even if they have little knowledge of various issues, Cosgrave said.

"Today we have a very decentralized structure," he said. "We will have to centralize the structure."

Cosgrave, who joined the IRS in August, said he will lead the agency in all aspects of its information systems, including modernization activities, Year 2000 computer efforts, privacy issues, security and other IT programs.

To help him with his mission, Cosgrave said he will bring in a new management team, including Martin Baer, regional commissioner for the Social Security Administration, to help improve information services. Cosgrave also wants to double the computer training budget from $3.5 million to $7 million.

Stefan Anton Mattei, director of IT solutions for Computer Technology Services Inc., Rockville, Md., applauds Cosgrave for planning to invest more resources in IRS workers. But Mattei said $7 million is not nearly enough to train an agency of 100,000 people.

"Even though he wants to double the money, that's not going to be enough," Mattei said. "Right now, the training budget is bad. It's going to take more money."

In terms of the Year 2000 computer problem, Cosgrave said the IRS will spend close to a billion dollars for its millennium fixes. "It's unfortunately necessary," he said. "We have systems that date back to the '60s."

Currently, Cosgrave said the IRS has 50 percent of its computer systems fixed for the Year 2000 and expects to have at least 90 percent fixed by 1999.

Cosgrave said he expects some computer problems in the next filing season because "when you're changing so many codes that need to be tested, there are going to be some problems."

The extent of the problems, such as erroneously telling a taxpayer that he owes more than he has paid, should be limited, an IRS spokesman said.

Rhoda R. Mancher, president and chief executive officer of H.W. & W. Inc., a Bethesda, Md., IT consulting firm, said Cosgrave has an ambitious plan.

"I think it's encouraging that they are trying to take a better approach," Mancher said. "But these things take a long time. The computer systems at the IRS don't support the changes. They are not compatible with talking about better customer service. I think it's a very complicated problem."

Cosgrave, a former chairman and CEO of Claremont Technology Group, said he would like to have many of the new changes in place by year's end. Cosgrave said he is looking for feedback on how he can fix the procurement process. "We need a quick procurement process," he said.

Cosgrave, who has 25 years of experience in information systems consulting -- primarily in the financial services, consumer products, hi-tech and telecommunications industries -- also said he is listening to oral presentations from bidders on the IRS' Prime contract.

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