In the space where tech collides with government spending, the money and the software seem to flow into either end of a vast spectrum: either money is senselessly wasted on the “latest” tech upgrades, or technology that was a hot ticket item a few decades ago is still taking up more than its fair share of desktop space. From a report last week on the FBI’s use of giant IBM “green screen” computers, to the fact that some colleges as recently as the early part of this millennium were still using Apple IIe computers in their departments, software and tech spending is confounding, to say the least.
But one state has announced a complete overhaul of one its most critical functions, the revenue service. This Michigan department is charged with collecting and error-checking electronically filed tax returns from its citizens, yet the software they have in place was purchased six Presidential terms ago. Given the staggering rates of tax return fraud and the fact that the federal and state IRS offices pay out billions of dollars every year in tax refunds due to identity theft, it seems like a software overhaul is long overdue.
With the abundance of software developers and the growing adoption of affordably open sourced software, why are so many agencies reluctant to make the switch? A large part of it stems from employee training; once your workforce is trained and confident with one system, why pay more to introduce new software and tolerate the delays that have become routine in any new training and adoption periods? Another issue may be the lack of awareness of the risks associated with outdated titles, especially where security flaws are concerned; why bring in new software when no one has proven that the old software was unstable or full of security holes?
Of course, in the case of the state of Michigan’s Treasury department, the old system was working ‘just fine’. In fact, thousands of taxpayers last year received faulty notifications that their tax returns were invalid. This resulted in some tax payers submitting money to the state when they didn’t owe it.
One of the biggest changes the state hopes for with the implementation of a new system is something that wasn’t feasible through the old software, and that’s the ability to put all of a taxpayer’s information into one accessible system. If an individual owes corporate taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes, all of that will now be retrievable in the same network, instead of having to go to different departments who used different, unconnected software networks.