GAO dings IRS on systems, monitoring

Poor coding in the Internal Revenue Service's tax records has cost the U.S.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Poor coding in the Internal Revenue Service's tax records has cost the U.S. government about $2.4 billion in potential collections, according to a General Accountability Office report released Nov. 15.

At issue is how the IRS determines what tax payers are routed into the Federal Payment Levy Program (FPLP), which rounds up wayward taxpayers for collection purposes. Generally, the IRS monitors tax records with automated computer systems that troll returns. The GAO examined the IRS' procedures and systems and determined that the nation's tax collection agency only had a percent error rate, but poor monitoring procedures meant the IRS couldn't correct those mistakes. Overall, the IRS maintains over 24 million separate tax debt accounts.

"We estimate that over a half-million tax records with about $2.4 billion in tax debt were erroneously excluded from the FPLP, as of September 30, 2005," said the GAO.

And there's more:

The "IRS did not identify and correct the coding errors we found because it did not sufficiently monitor the timely updating of the status and transaction codes or the effect of computer programming changes. In our sample transactions, we found that IRS did not identify six computer-programming-related coding errors because it did not fully assess the effect of certain computer-programming changes on taxpayer account status codes. Similarly, IRS did not identify a bankruptcy-related coding error because it did not monitor the timely updating of the bankruptcy-related transaction codes."

In sum, the IRS has made decent progress with updating its systems from some well-publicized issues in 2003, but these run-ins with the GAO continue.

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