Software to help IRS track, extract data from complaints

The Internal Revenue Service is installing off-the-shelf software to better

track complaints from taxpayers and employees.

The IRS files complaints into one of three databases, depending on the

nature of the problem. General correspondence goes one way, complaints about

race and gender bias land in another place and employee grievances are fed

into a third system. As a result, no one could determine whether those complaints

were part of a larger trend or even an epidemic — until now.

Using RetrievalWare, an intelligent search software package manu-factured

by Excalibur Technologies Corp. of Vienna, Va., the tax agency now plans

to make sure that no complaint is swept under the rug.

"We are not changing the underlying system," said Steve Whitlock, director

of the IRS Commissioner's Complaint Processing and Analysis Group. "This

is an analytic tool that looks at the three systems and tracks the complaints."

The software, which will be fully installed by next June, will extract

data from the three systems and search the consolidated data for information.

For example, if employees filed four complaints, six grievances and

14 referrals addressing retaliation from supervisors, the software might

spot that trend. And IRS investigators would look into the problem.

"With this information system, this research tool will be able to determine

if the same person filed a complaint multiple times or if there was a real

problem from one office," Whitlock said. This is an improvement over the

previous system, in which "we were looking at pieces of the total instead

of looking at what was going on at the whole IRS. When we submitted reports,

we didn't add them together."

Turning to the software package is only the latest effort by the IRS to

modernize its system and become a more friendly and paperless enterprise.

RetrievalWare is inexpensive by high-tech standards — costing about $500,000.

But agency officials hope it gives them the information needed to identify

and fix problems that lead to the estimated 250 complaints received every

month.

"The issue that these folks are faced with is that they have complaint

information that is currently kept in different databases," said John Murray,

an Excalibur spokesman. "We are able to perform searches across databases

without having to create a new one."

RetrievalWare already is used by various government agencies. At the

State Department, it provides arms control officers with classified and

unclassified treaty compliance and inspection data.

The Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency uses RetrievalWare

for its nationwide intranet for agriculture reference manuals. More than

15 handbooks are available on the intranet, and the software works as a

kind of "CliffsNotes," enabling FSA employees to scan, index and categorize

handbooks in a desired format.

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