IRS online didn't tax one's patience

IRS Website

The Internal Revenue Service's World Wide Web site reacted so fast during the 2000 tax season that a taxpayer could call it up on a computer screen faster than it takes to turn the page of a book, according to a new study by the General Accounting Office.

Keynote Systems Inc., a California company that measures the performance of popular Web sites, found the IRS was delivering its home page in 2.7 seconds and even faster — 2.62 seconds — as the April 17 filing deadline approached last spring.

A similar review in 1999 found that the IRS delivered its site anywhere from 5.39 seconds to 14.45 seconds, according to the GAO report issued Dec. 22.

The GAO also found that taxpayers turned to the Internet site in far greater numbers this year to get information on questions that ranged from what kind of form to use to deadlines for quarterly returns. Through June, the number of Web "hits" increased 31 percent in 2000 to 1.3 billion compared with about 983 million in 1999. And the number of files downloaded by taxpayers increased 62 percent — about 115 million in 2000 compared with 71 million in 1999.

The numbers are only expected to grow. IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti said the 2000 filing season was the "most successful filing season ever." A record 35.4 million taxpayers filed electronically, up 20 percent from 1999. The agency hopes to increase that number to 45 million in 2001.

The GAO gave the IRS high marks for its efforts to become an electronic agency. But it criticized the Web site for containing inaccurate or obsolete information. The reason, it said: no one person is responsible for ensuring that data on the Web site is current and accurate, or that information on one page of the site is consistent with other pages.

In a letter to the GAO, Rossotti said the problem would soon be fixed. Recently, the IRS' handed responsibility for the site to the Electronic Tax Administration, he said, and will develop standards for putting accurate and timely information on the Web.

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