Georgia portal was ready for IRS link

When the Small Business Administration went looking for a state partner to roll out a piece of its Business Compliance One-Stop e-government project, Georgia happened to be at the right place at the right time.

The Peach State’s use of open standards such as Web services and Universal Discovery, Description and Integration on its Georgia.gov portal provided the platform for SBA to develop and test an online application for businesses to apply for a provisional federal employer identification number from the IRS.

SBA earlier this year rolled out the tool in Georgia and Illinois, letting businesses apply through their state’s portal for a provisional federal number. The IRS now requires businesses to fill out paper forms and mail them in, but it is letting SBA through a memorandum of understanding give out 2,500 EINs as a third-party agent.

“We were a good candidate because we could provide the business rules, and we didn’t have an online application of our own,” said Beth Morgan, deputy director of Georgia’s Net Division, which is responsible for Georgia.gov. “But we had the infrastructure to translate the application into an online process.”

SBA also paid for Georgia’s version of the online application and that helped push the project forward, Morgan said.

Georgia developed the portal with this interoperability in mind, Morgan said. The site runs Java 2 Enterprise Edition, which lets developers separate the presentation layer from the business logic and integration layers. This design encourages reusable components that can be shared among state agencies, Morgan said.

Built-in flexibility

That reusability is exactly what SBA project manager Jim Van Wert needed. SBA and EZGov Inc. of Atlanta built two versions of the application—a basic tool that any state can use and a second that can be integrated with an existing state EIN application site. Van Wert said Georgia’s portal provided the opportunity to do a basic version, which could become a template for other states.

“Through Web services, the system passes the data from the state’s Web site to SBA. It applies the business rules to the information and returns a provisional EIN or asks additional questions,” said Jeff Cummings, EZGov’s vice president of federal sales. “This lets the state take advantage of a federal service without handing a customer over to the great unknown. It provides a platform for consistent processing.”

Users must register a name and password, and the IRS will send the official EIN through postal mail.

The IRS estimates that 4 million businesses apply for EINs annually, and the online application reduces processing time by about an hour, Van Wert said.

SBA and EZGov developed the tool in about eight weeks using EzGov’s commercial FlexFoundation software. Van Wert said the project came in under its $225,000 budget. It cost about $203,000, which includes $53,000 to outsource the operation and maintenance of the site to EZGov for the next six months.

Before the contract with EZGov runs out, Van Wert hopes to convince the IRS to take ownership of the tool.

“Each state will have its own front-end piece and connect to the IRS on the back end,” he said. “SBA is playing the role of conductor in this. IRS is the logical place for the tool to reside.”

Should IRS take the tool, Van Wert’s business model would change. Originally, he believed SBA would own the tool, but the maintenance would be better handled by the IRS or a private entity such as the Federation of Tax Administrators.

“Historically in Georgia, agencies have not been great collaborators, so this is amazing that in a very short amount of time we were able to do this with two state agencies, a federal agency and a private contractor,” Morgan said.

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