Most likely to be Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner--the man entrusted with overseeing with the Internal Revenue Service and a remaining $350 billion in bailout funds--apparently isn't so smooth when it comes to Intuit's TurboTax. And the flap over Geithner's confirmation hearings, his back taxes and his mention of TurboTax highlights two common problems in IT: Users vs. software and the "garbage in, garbage out" conundrum.
Last week, there was a flurry of news reports about Geithner's comments about TurboTax. As background, Geithner's confirmation hearings were Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 and he was grilled about paying more than $34,000 in back taxes. Geithner had self employment taxes he didn't claim while he was an employee of the International Monetary Fund. Geithner worked at the IMF between 2001-2004. He was ultimately is likely to be confirmed, but Geithner's standing has been diminished.
Geithner said he "mistakenly believed" he was meeting his tax obligations. When asked about what tax prep software he used, Geithner noted that the taxes were his responsibility, "but I used TurboTax to prepare my returns."
This incident--see the Wall Street Journal's live blog and Senate Finance Committee video (TurboTax mention comes at the 48 minute mark on Jan. 21 video) highlights the never-ending user error vs. software tug-of-war in IT. Was it your ERP applications that was screwy or your data you failed to input? Were Geithner's tax problems the result of TurboTax's failure to flag potential issues--like unpaid self-employment taxes--or the new Treasury Secretary's failure to cough up critical information.
Intuit was real clear about where it stood. In a statement, Intuit said:
Advantage Intuit. No one watching Geithner's testimony is likely to buy the blame the software routine. Clearly, this fiasco is a garbage in, garbage out issue. Geithner didn't provide the necessary data.
The larger question is whether a guy that wrestles with TurboTax should realistically be expected to oversee the IRS and fork over $350 billion in bailout money. I'll leave that for you to decide since that answer goes well beyond the scope of my blog. I'd hate to add yet another IT problem--scope creep--to this post.