The Circuit

Online Filing for Everyone

Even John Reece, chief information officer at the Internal Revenue Service and leader of the agency's business systems modernization program, is getting with the program. For the first time ever, he's filing his tax returns online this year, joining a growing number of Americans taking advantage of the high-tech options.

So far this tax season, more than 28 million taxpayers have filed their returns electronically, an 11 percent increase from this time last year. Reece and other tax officials are hoping to exceed this year's target of 45 million online filers.

Another trend is emerging this year, too. Although most people hire someone to file their returns online, the IRS continues to see an increase in returns from taxpayers using their own computers — almost 4.8 million, up 40 percent from this time last year.

Help Wanted

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a good architect, but not any old architect — an information technology architect. That person will be in charge of the VA's enterprise architecture — the blueprint for running the agency's IT systems. Until the post is filled, according to a March 13 General Accounting Office report, the VA will "continue to lack the management and oversight necessary to ensure the success of its enterprise architecture program."

Sen. Thompson Heads Out

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), top Republican on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is the latest senator to throw in the towel. He has announced he won't run for re-election, leaving a void for those who looked to the colorful lawmaker for leadership on high-tech issues.

Thompson had an 84 percent voting record in favor of such issues, according to the Information Technology Industry Council. Whoever replaces Thompson will have big shoes to fill. And right now, it's not known who will be running to step into them to champion technology legislation.

The Ridge Dilemma

Rep. Ernest Istook Jr. (R-Okla.) is concerned. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Subcommittee said last week that when it comes to the homeland security budget, there doesn't seem to be a way for the Appropriations Committee to maintain oversight of that money. But the Bush administration maintains that Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, cannot testify before Congress because he is not a Senate-confirmed official.

However, agencies involved in homeland security look to Ridge as the point person on these issues. And Istook argued that Ridge is a doer rather than just an adviser, which means that the committee should have oversight of his office's spending. The word "advise" appears only once in the six pages of the executive order that establishes Ridge's office and position, Istook said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the subcommittee's ranking minority member, agreed with Istook's stance, as did Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.). But Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, disagreed, saying that Ridge has done a lot behind the scenes. Ridge has met with committee members whenever he has been asked to do so and has given them all the information he can, Young said.

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