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W&M members demand IRS explain Tax Day system failure


May 4. That's the day the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee wants the Internal Revenue Service to explain exactly what happened on this year's Tax Day.

If you were a last-minute filer, especially one trying to pay your 2017 tax bill, you remember the hassle on April 17 when the IRS experienced a spectacularly ill-timed systems crash.

That day, one of the busiest of the year for the IRS, one of the agency's core systems in West Virginia failed. Unfortunately for the IRS and millions of tax-owing filers, it was the system that powered the IRS' Direct Pay and Payment Plan options. The Where's My Refund? online search tool also was affected.

The IRS was able to get things running more-or-less up to speed by later in the day. However, because of the delays on April 17, the agency pushed the 2017 filing deadline to April 18.

Congress wants details: Now the tax-writing panel's subcommittee charged with keeping an eye on, among other things, IRS operations is demanding a full explanation.

Last week, the W&M Oversight members sent IRS Acting Commissioner David Kautter a letter seeking answers to 12 specific questions about the computer crash.

Among the things the lawmakers want to know:

  • Was just a hardware failure, or were there software issues, too?
  • Were any contractors involved and if so, which ones?
  • How long did it take the IRS to identify and then respond to the crash?
  • Was taxpayer data compromised in any way?

The Oversight members want the answers to these and the other questions in the letter by the end of next week, Friday, May 4.

That deadline earns this week's By the Numbers honors.

Fuel for IRS reform: The questioning was led by W&M subcommittee member Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Washington).

Her inquiry got the bipartisan support of the W&M Oversight Chair Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) and its Ranking Member Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), as well as five others serving on the subcommittee.

Jenkins and Lewis also are authors of the latest effort to remake the IRS. That bill was overwhelmingly passed on April 25 by the House.

In summarizing their bill — H.R. 5444, which Jenkins and Lewis dubbed The Taxpayer First Act — the sponsors noted that it's time to transform taxpayer interactions with the IRS, which was last done in 1998. The pair notes that "it is time to modernize the agency's information technology, infrastructure, and services. It is time to return the IRS back to its 'service first' mission."

The April 17 systems failure no doubt helped garner the wide support for The Taxpayer First Act, which was part of a package of IRS reform measures approved last week.

There's a push to have the IRS measures clear the Senate, too, before both chambers recess to head home and campaign for the midterm elections. One possibility it to attach them to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure, which must be passed by the end Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

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