That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column. After detailing the very backward, often-1970s level of IT at the IRS (yes it will horrify you), the column continues;
It’s easy to say that the IRS has not had the staff or the money to do the necessary upgrades. But hold on: These software upgrades are supposed to save money by enhancing productivity, letting organizations do more work with fewer people. A reasonable person can be forgiven for asking whether an agency with a $13.7 billion budget really doesn’t have enough to front some cash.
You might argue that IRS was too liquidity-constrained to shell out the cash up front, but is that argument believable? The improvements from better software usually pay off rather quickly, precisely because the software is labor-saving. The US has plenty of small to mid-sized businesses and non-profits with shrinking staffs and budgets. Yet most of those institutions have been able to upgrade to better software, often repeatedly. Unlike the IRS, many state tax agencies at least use scanners, and those are hardly the wealthiest or most nimble institutions in American society.
When I see that the IRS reduced staff by 22%, I imagine an alternate reality in which the IRS had replaced a good deal of its office staff with better information technology, as many American businesses started to do in the 1990s. In this parallel universe, the staff of the IRS is down and the productivity of the IRS is up, as has happened to so much white-collar office work. But that is not the world we live in.
The advocates for additional funding should better understand why not everyone in America is thrilled with the agency’s new budget boost. It’s not just a bunch of kooks who fear “an army” of weapon-toting IRS agents, or rich people who feel they shouldn’t have to pay their fair share. It’s normal people who think it’s a bad idea to reward an agency that seems so dysfunctional.
I say make the funding conditional on progress in advance. Overall I remain astonished how little critical scrutiny the Biden bills are being subject to. By the way, here is a standing history of attempts to reform the IRS/give it more funding. Most have failed.