A target to aspire to?

29 April 2005

Hot news from the IRS:

The IRS saw a strong, smooth filing season across the board,� said IRS
Commissioner Mark W. Everson. “The filing season results confirm what
we’ve said all along. For the first time, more than half of all
taxpayers filed electronically.  Paper filers are now in the minority.â€�

In some ways, what is most interesting about that has little to do with quality of service (about which I have no idea), but is much more about two features of the US taxation system which long pre-date online filing:

  • heavy use of intermediaries – little more of a quarter of the online returns came from individuals directly, the remainder came from tax professionals
  • the system is designed to collect more tax than is due, so a very high proportion of taxpayers get a refund – the year to date average is more than $2,000.  If you file online you get your refund faster – you do here too, but a much smaller proportion of taxpayers benefits

That immediately changes the scope of the question away from ‘how do we put this online?’ to ‘what drivers in the system can we exploit or invent to drive efficiency and customer service?’  In other words, it’s not an e-government problem, it’s a business and policy design problem.