Answering the call

IRS CIO brings fresh perspective to tough job

As Americans race to file their federal income taxes by midnight Monday, the new information technology point man at the Internal Revenue Service will be on the job around-the-clock to study how to make the system better.

His name is John Reece, and he will be spending a long night at the IRS' Philadelphia Service Center, watching and taking notes on how to turn a paper trail into an electronic one.

"It is the only way to learn a business," said Reece, the new deputy commissioner for modernization and chief information officer, a new position that combines oversight of business modernization and the CIO office.

Only two months ago, Reece, who will be 64 in May, had settled comfortably into his retirement at Hilton Head, S.C., where he planned to play a lot of golf, read and spend time with his wife of 39 years and their six grandchildren.

Then the phone rang. On the other end of the line was IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti, an old friend and colleague, asking him for help in turning the IRS into a sleek electronic machine. With only six years to go, Rossotti has told Congress it may be tough to meet the target of having 80 percent of all tax returns filed electronically by 2007.

"I had no intention of talking to Charles until that phone rang," Reece said. The two men worked together in the 1980s at a small consulting firm and have stayed in touch ever since.

In fact, Reece is the perfect fit for the new position and an agency with an urgent mission. He has spent his career in private industry helping develop electronic services. But even with his background in IT, Reece is a man of tradition. He'd rather buy goods in a store because "I still like the ability to see, feel and touch." He has never filed his taxes electronically. "I haven't e-filed, but there is no reason not to," Reece said. In his new job, Reece will be responsible for all IT operations and for the Business Systems Modernization, a 15-year project expected to cost at least $10 billion.

"John Reece's private-sector experience with integrating the business and technology needs of different business units is exactly what IRS needs now," Rossotti said. "He will bring a lot of energy and a fresh perspective to the IRS senior leadership."

Although the position is new, it will work in concert with other electronic segments of the IRS, including the Electronic Tax Administration, led by IRS veteran Terry Lutes. Bert Concklin will continue to head the Business Systems Modernization project, reporting to Reece.

"We will have modernization and information technology services — [they] fit hand and glove," Reece said. Rossotti saw this as a way to bring the two pieces of the organization together to form a seamless evolution from the "point where we are today, to the goal where modernization will ultimately take us," Reece said.

And one of Reece's first goals is to "stamp out the word 'legacy.' "

"These are existing platforms that have to serve us for perhaps another 10 years," he said. "We're going to spend time and energy to keep them alive."

The John Reese File

Education: Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University.

Professional experience: CEO and chairman of John C. Reece and Associates,

a South Carolina-based consulting firm specializing in Internet and telecommunications

ventures. He also sits on the boards at Bristol-Myers Squibb's Research

Institute, the Stern School at New York University and Fordham University's

Graduate School of Business.

Other background: Managing partner of Booz-Allen & Hamilton's IT

practice in the Midwest, executive vice president of the IT practice at

Strategic Planning Associates in Washington, D.C. In addition to working

for Time Warner Inc., he's also held positions at IBM Corp., Union Carbide

Corp. and American Express Co.'s Card Division.

Quote: "The IRS is an information

business.... We are really a service business, providing information support

to all of our stakeholders, to the taxpayers."

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