Auditors urge CADE stress

The Internal Revenue Service's modernization centerpiece, the Customer Account Data Engine (CADE), requires high-volume testing before deployment, according to a recent audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

IRS officials failed to carry out that testing when modernization contractor Computer Sciences delivered a major software upgrade in June as part of CADE version 1.1. Although the upgrade, called "Delta Build," did undergo systems integration and readiness testing, it was never subjected to the stress of a high-volume simulation. As a result, CADE is at risk of "taxpayer account and refund processing problems during high volume periods of the 2005 Filing Season," auditors state.

CADE is a database system slated to replace the decades-old tape-based technology the agency uses to process individual tax returns. During a live testing trial run in July during which the tax agency CADE to process more than 1,000 1040 EZ, officials' failure to perform complete system testing led to a 10-day shutdown, auditors state.

Full testing of Delta Build was skipped because the upgrade's complexity was larger than what CSC officials originally projected, the report continues.

Consequentially, Delta Build could not be included in the full CADE testing that took place in May and officials decided not to postpone that system testing as not to cause a delay in the release of version 1.1. CSC delivered CADE 1.1 several weeks before deadline, in early August. IRS modernization officials expect the system's next version, slated for delivery in January 2005, to handle about 2 million 1040 EZ forms.

In a written response to Treasury auditors, IRS Chief Information Officer W. Todd Grams said a significant change from years past will be to introduce CADE releases on a semiannual basis every six months starting in January. "For the July release, returns will be available from the previous six months which will enable us to test the high risk, complex changes in high volumes," he stated.

In addition, auditors found the task order for the CADE 1.1 operating manual did not call for its delivery until Sept. 15, 2004, months after the live trail run in July. A draft manual was issued in late June, but "a CADE official from IRS identified critical agreed to revisions" that were not included in the June draft.

Modernization officials also did not subject CADE to full disaster recovery testing until October, when the tax agency conducts annual disaster assessments. During that testing "there were some issues which we are correcting," the IRS written response states. "We are setting an implementation date for next year's testing." Auditors worry that without full scale disaster testing, "the IRS may have difficulty identifying the risks the CADE faces to be able to fully recover," and as a result, taxpayer data within CADE might be lost, requiring tax agency officials to contact taxpayers to reacquire lost information.

Nonetheless, auditors conclude that the IRS and CSC "have positioned the program for success."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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