IRS modernization chief gets to work

Richard Spires is setting new priorities to ensure the IRS Business Systems Modernization program stays on track.

Richard Spires, the new chief of the Internal Revenue Service's troubled Business Systems Modernization (BSM) effort, is setting new priorities to ensure the program stays on track.

Spires, a recent private-sector hire, replaced Fred Forman Sept. 17 as leader of the $10 billion effort to modernize the IRS' tax-processing technology. Spires said he has already started a review of modernization program support provided by the seven-company Prime Alliance of BSM contractors led by Computer Sciences Corp.

"It's a matter of assessing them and, where we feel that they have weaknesses, working with them to shore up those weaknesses," he said. The relationship has "been rocky, but it's getting better. My assessment is that we need to make this work."

"I think Richard wants to continue to find out how we can effectively work together," said Jim Sheaffer, CSC's vice president and Prime general manager. "I don't see it as a fundamental change in the way we do business together."

Spires also is reworking the BSM Challenge Plan, which IRS officials and contractors agreed to earlier this year to get the program moving again. About half of the items in the 46-point plan have either been completed or combined, Spires said. "We are working very actively on the others."

As part of Spires' new approach, BSM officials will continue adding to the plan as a means to "get on a regular process improvement routine for the program." Biannual plan reviews will occur every January and June.

Among the action items added by Spires is a look at whether the modernization effort needs more outside recruits. The program recently added former American Management Systems Inc. executive Zipora Brown to BSM management in the newly created position of program director of internal management.

Spires also said BSM officials will establish a new requirements management office. Better change management was called for in the original BSM Challenge Plan, "but I felt like we needed to instantiate a real requirements office to more effectively manage requirements through the life cycle," Spires said.

Spires' appointment as leader of BSM is part of a larger effort to install experienced private-sector executives in the upper echelons of the tax agency's modernization and information technology services function.

"There are excellent people here at the IRS. ...But there are particular areas where we want to bring in private-sector skills or skills that don't exist in people we have here," Spires said.

"I think they need qualified new blood," said a close IRS observer. "It refreshes the environment."

In the past, IRS employees have been distrustful of outsiders coming in, the observer said. "There's no doubt that there was some push back from the long-standing folks, some resentment, and some 'I'll show them. I'm not going to cooperate.'"

Overcoming that requires "salesmanship, good sensitivity, good diplomacy skills," the observer added.

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