Employees like IRS remote access project

The Internal Revenue Service’s Enterprise Remote Access Project (ERAP) saves the agency money and gives employees more access to files. It’s also popular with employees, an IRS official said.

ERAP saves the agency about $10 million a year and replaces four programs that employees use to connect remotely to the IRS network and the Internet, said Frank Kist, associate chief information officer for enterprise networks.

With tightening budgets, the IRS has sought to cut costs, but Congress has blocked several proposals. For example, in 2005, the agency unsuccessfully tried to reduce the time that toll-free phone support is available from 15 to 12 hours a day and close what it considered unnecessary walk-in assistance centers.

ERAP has become popular with IRS employees. “It’s become a verb here. People are ERAPing,” Kist said.

About 28,000 employees or IRS-approved contractors use ERAP. That number could reach 40,000 this year, Kist said. IRS considers the self-installation so successful that nearly all potential ERAP users have the program on their computers — nine months ahead of schedule.

The new system lessens the importance of where people work, Kist said. ERAP allows IRS employees to retrieve their files in emergency situations or natural disasters. For example, during Hurricane Katrina some employees fled to Houston to avoid the storm. With their IRS-issued laptop computers, they could gain access to needed information via a hotel Internet connection.

ERAP is encrypted for safety and meets the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, Kist said.

Moreover, in such disaster situations, ERAP offers IRS decision-makers access to the systems they need, even if they are off-site.

Nevertheless, there is a drawback. “It extends my work hours,” Kist said. After work, he eats dinner with his family and then checks his e-mail. Employees wrestle with it, too. “I sometimes have to tell employees that it’s 11 p.m. ‘Go to bed,’” he said.

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