IRS to cut biz burden

On any given day anywhere in America, businesses from Wall Street to Main

Street are chained to the federal government.

Businesses have data to store, forms to fill out, identification numbers

to be placed in neat, little boxes, and money to be handed over for taxes,

taxes and more taxes.

And at least four times a year, every business — large and small — must

file tax returns, a process that takes hours, costs money and gives little

in return except for employing accountants, clerks, bookkeepers and messengers.

Now, as it struggles to turn itself into a paperless agency, the Internal

Revenue Service is coming up with new ways to help the estimated 25 million

businesses nationwide file online and save $16 billion to $18 billion a

year — as much as $1,000 per employee for some businesses.

The program is called the Simplified Tax and Wage Reporting System (STAWRS),

a partnership to reduce employers' tax and wage reporting burden.

On the drawing board for the past four years, the program took a giant

step forward this month when the STAWRS partnership selected states and

commercial partners to develop software that would enable businesses to

file electronically to a single recipient.

"This is a new way of thinking. We are looking at it from the employer's

perspective," said Midori Morgan-Gaide, an IRS executive in charge of the

project.

Morgan-Gaide hopes to have a pilot project up and running next year

with test software. And like the IRS' target date to have individual taxpayers

file online, the target is to have 80 percent of all businesses filing online

by 2008.

But the idea is gaining steam already. With a mandate from Congress

to provide citizens the option of submitting government forms electronically

by October 2003, the IRS started a pilot proj- ect testing online W-2 tax

form filing. Also, several states, including New York, Iowa and Montana,

have worked to give local businesses the ability to file online to a single

location in the states' systems.

Now, with input from several agencies that deal regularly with business — the Treasury Department, the IRS, the Labor Department, the Social Security

Administration, the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business

Administration — the government hopes to speed up the project.

Much like the employee tax filing software that has been on the market

for the past two years, employers' software would be sold commercially.

Business owners would load the software onto their computers and keep records

electronically. Millions of dollars in business is at stake for companies

that successfully design tax filing software.

"It's an ambitious program.... Larger employers are ready to do it much

more quickly, and when it is finished it really will benefit small business,"

said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president for the Information Technology

Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division.

Even those who are usually critical of the way the IRS does business

see STAWRS as a way to break the chains.

"Short of Congress doing its job by simplifying the law itself, this

is one of the few things the IRS can do to simplify government. A one-stop

shop would certainly cause less headaches for the small-business owner,

provided very big steps are taken to ensure privacy," said National Taxpayers

Union representative Pete Sepp.

Nevertheless, Morgan-Gaide suggests there are still problems with electronic

signatures or how to provide secure codes for filers. And some people will

always want to conduct business the old-fashioned way, she said.

"We've tested the concept. We know it works...but we know paper will

always be there."

MORE INFO

The STAWRS home page

Government Paperwork Elimination Act

"IRS revving up online efforts" [FCW.com, May 9, 2000]

"SSA goes public with PKI pilot" [Federal Computer Week, Feb. 21, 2000]

"Feds losing paper chase" [Federal Computer Week, April 17, 2000]

"Paperless "paperwork'" [Federal Computer Week, March 20, 2000]

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