Software to help IRS track, extract data from complaints
- By Judi Hasson
- Dec 10, 2000
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
"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.