IRS CIO holds out hope for modernization by holding onto COBOL systems

20 years and $5 billion later, the IRS is still unable to upgrade its computer system and continues to use mainframes running assembly code written in the 1960s, CNET News.com reports.

20 years and $5 billion later, the IRS is still unable to upgrade its computer system and continues to use mainframes running assembly code written in the 1960s, CNET News.com reports.

The IRS' long-term goal is to run its operations with the efficiency Americans expect of banks and credit card companies, but it has consistently fallen short. Right now, for instance, a taxpayer who submits a tax return on a Monday will likely find that it will not be processed until at least the following weekend, thanks to limitations in the antiquated core of the agency's tax-processing apparatus. Over $3 billion was wasted in an earlier upgrade attempt in the 1990s. Last year, computer problems caused the IRS to erroneously hand out an estimated $318 million in fraudulent refunds.

The problems are hardly unique to the agency, though. Federal agencies - and state agencies, for that matter - are consistently plagued by inadequate management, ill-defined goals, repeated cost overruns, and failure to meet deadlines and expectations.

News.com's Anne Broache interviewed IRS CIO Richard Spires for the article, in which he takes some credit for what he says is an improved outlook for IRS IT.

"There are no guarantees in this world in the sense of what could happen in the future, but I think the confidence level in us and the confidence level in our team has grown," he said.

Part of his strategy for moving forward is to include some parts of the legacy system into a hybrid modernized system, rather than trying to completely replace the old system.

"I think it's the prudent thing to do given our management bandwidth and the dollars we're going to get," Spires said, adding that many of the older COBOL-based systems are still "very maintainable."

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