GAO: IRS needs long-term web strategy

Tools

In an effort to improve its website, the Internal Revenue Service launched short projects to deliver interactive tools and longer-term projects to improve foundational infrastructure, but it has no overarching strategy for its website, says the Government Accountability in an April 16 report (.pdf).

Without a long-term strategy it's unclear how the IRS's projects fit together. The agency also lacks clear goals, deliverables, and time and cost estimates.

Auditors note IRS has made improvements to its website. However, it still cannot provide taxpayers with dynamic account access. In the last 3 years the agency began more closely tracking web performance metrics, but GAO would like it to settle on a final suite, informed by government and private-sector best practices—such as those shared by the General Services Administration through Howto.gov. It would also benefit from setting a measurable taxpayer satisfaction goal to help ensure taxpayers' needs are being met.

The GAO is concerned that the new, interactive tools under development are undertaken haphazardly. Auditors recommend the agency prioritize the development of new online services based on business cases that outline the benefits and costs.

As for its long-term projects to build a more robust infrastructure for the website, the IRS should link investments in security to a long term plan, says GAO. By enhancing its security capabilities the agency will be able to increase interactive web services. Report authors commend the agency on its work toward authenticating taxpayers' identities, but more needs to be done to provide dynamic account access.

Auditors say the agency is not consistently following the IRS security risk assessment process when launching interactive tools, but they recommend it begin doing so.

The report makes seven recommendations in all. In a written response to the report, the IRS agreed with four, did not state agreement or disagreement with two and partially agreed with one.

The agency said it has a long-term strategy to improve online services and would make improvements to the plan as appropriate--but it did not say whether or not it agreed to develop the strategy in accordance with federal guidance. It also didn't say whether it would create a measurable goal to improve taxpayer satisfaction and a timeframe for achieving it. The IRS only partially agreed with the recommendation to develop business cases for all new online services.

For more:
- download the report, GAO-13-435 (.pdf)

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