Legacy IT

Trump IRS pick faces massive IT challenge

Shutterstock photo ID: photo ID: 245503636 By Mark Van Scyoc Sign outside the Internal Revenue Service building in downtown Washington, DC on December 26, 2014. 

Charles Rettig, the Trump administration's pick to lead the IRS, told lawmakers at his June 28 confirmation hearing that the tax agency's legacy tech is one of its most critical challenges.

If confirmed, Rettig, a tax attorney, will face the same daunting task that his predecessors and Congress have largely failed to address for decades: dragging the agency’s IT software and hardware out of the punchcard age.

"The modernization of the IRS IT system and bringing the IRS IT system into the 21st century is one of my top goals," said Rettig. "It serves two purposes: it serves not only the protection of taxpayer data … but also modernization serves to enhance services that taxpayers in this country deserve."

Rettig's take on the agency's tech problems contrasts with the optimistic assessment offered by Acting Commissioner David Kautter in April, just days before the agency’s Individual Master File suffered a critical breakdown on tax deadline day, locking out taxpayers. The IRS extended the filing deadline in response.

In order to achieve Rettig’s vision of a modern IRS, the agency will likely need significant cash infusions on three fronts: software, hardware and personnel. In addition to the estimated $425 million over five years that Gina Garza, the tax agency's CIO said would be needed to replace the Individual Master File, an inspector general audit last year found that approximately two-thirds of the hardware the IRS relies on is also obsolete.

Rettig strongly endorsed a proposal to restore streamlined critical pay authority for top IRS tech officials, saying it was particularly urgent to fill IT and cybersecurity positions that would allow officials to move candidates through the hiring process in weeks instead of months.

"I think its publicly known that the IRS system gets attacked between 2-3 million times a day and [that pay authority is] critical to the success of this country and to the appearance and trust that the American taxpayers have in the IRS that we have a system that can defend taxpayer data better than any system in the planet," said Rettig.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) floated the potential for an upgrade spending package of “up to $400 million” to upgrade IRS IT. Carper’s office later told FCW he was referring to the September 2017 IG audit, which estimated that in order to get the percentage of old hardware back down the manageable levels, the agency would need an additional $430 million.

A Senate Finance Committee vote on Rettig's nomination is not yet scheduled.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

  • Comment
    Pilot Class. The author and Barbie Flowers are first row third and second from right, respectively.

    How VA is disrupting tech delivery

    A former Digital Service specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs explains efforts to transition government from a legacy "project" approach to a more user-centered "product" method.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.