Business Systems Modernization:

Internal Revenue Service Needs to Further Strengthen Program Management

GAO-04-438T: Published: Feb 12, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 12, 2004.

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been grappling with modernizing its computer systems for many years. IRS's current program, commonly referred to as Business Systems Modernization (BSM), began in fiscal year 1999; about $1.4 billion has been reported spent on it to date. While progress has been made, the program continues to face significant challenges and risks. In recognition of these risks, IRS and a contractor recently completed several comprehensive assessments of BSM, including one of its Customer Account Data Engine (CADE) project, which is to modernize the agency's outdated data management system. At the request of the Subcommittee on Oversight, House Committee on Ways and Means, GAO's testimony will summarize (1) GAO's prior findings and recommendations, along with those of the recent assessments; and (2) actions IRS has taken or plans to take to address these issues.

Prior GAO reviews have disclosed numerous modernization management control deficiencies that have contributed to reported cost overruns and schedule delays. Costs and completion dates for ongoing projects have grown from their initial estimates. Reasons for such delays include inadequate definition of systems requirements, increases in project scope, and underestimation of project complexity. These impair IRS's ability to make future systems investment decisions and delay delivery of benefits to taxpayers. GAO has made a series of recommendations focusing on stronger program management--and limiting modernization activities until such management practices were in place. IRS has made important progress in implementing management controls, establishing infrastructure, delivering certain business applications, and balancing the pace of the program with the agency's ability to manage it. Nevertheless, IRS needs to further strengthen BSM program management, including fully implementing modernization management controls in such areas as cost and schedule estimating. The recent BSM assessments identified many weaknesses, consistent with prior GAO findings, that contributed to the cost overruns and schedule delays, and offered recommendations to address them. IRS has responded by identifying 46 discrete issues to be resolved; according to the agency, 27 of these have been completed. Commitment of appropriate resources, top management attention, and continuing oversight by Congress and others are critical to the success of BSM.

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