The Circuit

Tax-Fee Feedback

Although 34 million Americans filed their income tax returns online this year, most of them paid a fee to do it. Now Robert Barr, assistant commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service's Electronic Tax Administration, wants to know if electronic filing should be free, and he's asked people in the public and private sectors to send him their thoughts.

To eliminate the fee, the IRS would have to eliminate third-party tax preparation software or pick up the cost of it. And if software companies eat the cost and offer the service for free, what exactly would they expect in return from the IRS? Comments are due by Sept. 22 and can be e-mailed to freeinternetfilingproject@irs.gov. Hat in Hand

When Congress returns to work Sept. 6, federal chief information officers will be looking to reap the benefits of President Clinton's 2001 budget proposal to increase the IT security budget by 15 percent. "Thus far, not a dime," said Joshua Gotbaum, executive associate director and controller of the Office of Management and Budget. If Congress doesn't get moving soon, lawmakers will have to roll all budget requests into a temporary measure to keep government going.

The Long Arm of Al

Vice President Al Gore may be hard at work campaigning for president, but his office still insists on reviewing all press queries to the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, Gore's baby for streamlining federal government. That means when you call NPR to talk about technology or anything else, the press office must check with the vice president's office to get the green light before commenting. The term "micromanaging" just may have been coined for this presidential candidate.

It's in the Mail

Another e-mail hoax has reared its ugly head, warning that Congress is considering legislation that would allow the federal government to collect 5 cents on every e-mail. The government, according to the phony message, is attempting to "quietly push through legislation" that would allow the U.S. Postal Service to bill e-mail users.

Sound familiar? It should. In May, the House repudiated a fictitious bill proposed by a fictitious congressman to levy a fee for each minute Internet users were connected online. In response, real House members passed H.R. 1291, which prohibits the Federal Communications Commission from imposing any per-minute user fees for hooking up to the Internet. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) takes on both hoaxes at www.house.gov/tauzin/NOinettax.htm.

VA Goes Electronic

The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying out an interactive online program that will enable U.S. military veterans and some service members to apply for compensation, pension and vocational rehab benefits. The VA hopes to speed up services to vets and eliminate dreaded and time-consuming trips to VA offices.

Eventually, the VA may expand the Internet service to other claimants, including dependents, and later this year plans to add an online form for education applications. Check out the Veterans On Line Application at vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp.

Have a tip? Send it to circuit@fcw.com.

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