IRS unveils modernization blueprint

The Internal Revenue Service unveiled its blueprint Thursday for the largest civilian modernization plan in history.

The plan relies on information technology to take the tax agency from a paper-pushing system to an interactive online program for taxpayers. Among the goals are to deliver tax refunds in as little as two or three days and enable taxpayers to receive e-mail messages from the IRS about their returns and track the status of refunds online.

The 15-year modernization plan is expected to cost at least $10 billion.

Chief among its goals is retiring an aging tape-based system introduced during the Kennedy administration. The tape system can be accessed only once a week, and its computer language is so old that no one will know how to use it in a few years, according to Bert Concklin, the IRS' business systems modernization executive.

"The blueprint is bringing technology together," Concklin said. "The projects are carefully coordinated against the blueprint."

The first IRS blueprint for modernization was issued in 1997 and began the process to overhaul the tax agency.

Taxpayers already have been seeing some changes in how the IRS handles tax returns with the agency's growing roster of electronic services. Last year, 35 million taxpayers filed their returns electronically.

"You can't build a shopping center without having the appropriate architecture in place," said Greg Toth, chief architect of the IRS Prime alliance for the project.

The blueprint plans include:

* Creating three portals on the IRS Web site to give taxpayers, businesses and internal employees access to tax information.

* Converting tape-based master files to a different database, beginning with the simplest tax returns for the past five years—about 6 million files.

* Giving taxpayers the option of communicating with the IRS via e-mail when there are questions about a tax return.

* Giving taxpayers the authority to give someone power of attorney to communicate with the IRS electronically.

"We're not only bringing in new technology but changing the way it's done," said outgoing IRS CIO Paul Cosgrave.

The IRS released its executive summary of its blueprint and expects to post the entire blueprint on its Web site as soon as officials remove security-related details.

Cosgrave assured reporters at a press briefing that the new services would be behind many firewalls, and Internet users would not have access to raw data.

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