IRS, CSC taking care to avoid past mistakes

The Internal Revenue Service and Computer Sciences Corp. are expected to unveil details next month on how they will manage a 15-year modernization effort to replace the IRS' obsolete computer systems.

Top managers from the IRS and CSC recently met for a five-day, getting-to-know-you planning session to discuss the direction they may take for managing the multibillion-dollar Prime Systems Integration Services contract, commonly known as Prime, said Al Mazei, the assistant commissioner of the IRS' Program Management and Architectural Office and the point man for managing Prime.

Details from that meeting will not be released until after the plans are approved by an oversight board - the Core Business Systems Executive Steering Committee - Mazei said.

However, Paul Cosgrave, the IRS' chief information officer, said some of the issues discussed at the meeting dealt with criticism the IRS received for past modernization efforts. To make this attempt a success, Cosgrave said the IRS will avoid past practices such as its typically insular management approach, not involving the private sector and subscribing to a methodology that does not clearly lay out a stable way of developing computer systems.

Darlene Berthold, the IRS' deputy chief operations officer, said the meeting set the tone and was a way for everyone to understand each other's role.

"I don't remember us doing that before," Berthold said. "The meeting was a jump-start for all parties about where we are heading. We're starting out the right way; I'm so excited.''

March 1 is the target date for Mazei and Don Brown, vice president and program manager of the CSC Prime alliance, to present the steering committee with a plan that will outline the direction they want to steer the Prime contract, which was awarded in December to CSC and its subcontractors.

Although the Tax Systems Modernization plan unveiled in 1997 outlines in detail what functions IRS computer systems would perform, it does not describe how these systems will be built or the specific technology the IRS wants to deploy.

Brown said the modernization plan will be updated periodically as details from the Prime contract begin to unfold. For example, the Prime team may include in its plans the future of the tax form imaging program.

Because the Prime team has not yet addressed the future of imaging, the IRS intends to award a follow-on contract on a sole-source basis to Northrop Grumman for one year with an 11-month option. Northrop Grumman, a subcontractor for Prime, developed the Service Center Recognition/Image Processing System, which may be folded into modernization plans.

"We must first crawl, walk and then run,'' Mazei said. "The planning session was a perfect way of starting off the relationship. We met on how to do it right, not quick.''

Brown agreed. "We want to take small steps in increments,'' he said. "We want to make sure we're doing the right thing. We're not going to jump off the cliff.''

Mazei and Brown have a committee to assist them in making this modernization a success - a feature lacking in past attempts.

In June, the Prime team expects to use its plan to win the confidence of congressional leaders. Mazei said the team will lobby for Congress' support before making a request to free up more funds for IRS modernization.

So far, the Prime team has spent $10.4 million on operational costs, which included expenses from the five-day planning session, Mazei said.

Capitol Hill leaders have said they are confident in the IRS, but agency officials and the CSC team must clearly define during their planning sessions how this attempt will be different from other failed proposals.

The IRS has spent an estimated $3.3 billion over the past decade in an effort to modernize its computer systems, some of which date to President Kennedy's administration.

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The Core Business Systems Executive Steering Committee:

Charles Rossotti, IRS commissioner

Bob Wenzel, IRS deputy commissioner for operations

John LaFaver, IRS deputy commissioner for modernization

Paul Cosgrave, IRS chief information officer

John Dalrymple, IRS chief operations officer

Nancy Killefer, Treasury chief financial officer

Milt Cooper, CSC Federal Sector president

Robert Tobias, National Treasury Employees Union president

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