Sometimes the show just can’t go on, thanks to outdated computers. That’s what the IRS faced on the biggest tax filing day of the year Tuesday, in a nightmare for the agency, taxpayers and accountants alike.
A “glitch” in the agency’s computer hardware, some of which dates back to the 1960s, was blamed for problems that forced the IRS to push Tuesday’s filing deadline back a day.
The technology failures delayed millions of taxpayers as they tried to submit their returns online and forcing the agency to push back its original Tuesday deadline to the end of Wednesday. For much of the day, access was blocked for filers who use online tax preparation software, such as TurboTax or tools from H&R Block, or pay their taxes directly to the IRS online. An erroneous page linked to in the IRS’s online payment section described a “Planned Outage: April 17, 2018 — December 31, 9999.”
NPR reports that former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen called the computer problems predictable, given years of cost-cutting.
“The budget has been continually under pressure for the last eight years,” he told NPR, “even though we have almost 20,000 fewer employees and 10 million more taxpayers, so sooner or later something’s gonna give.”
NPR reports that the agency’s computer model was once state of the art — during the Kennedy administration.
According to the radio network:
Believe it or not, at one time, the IRS’s computing system was a state of the art marvel. In the early 1960s, people would make the trek to the IRS computing center in Martinsburg, W.Va., just to gawk, according to University of Georgia history professor Stephen Mihm.
“This huge mainframe facility that was truly state of the art, it was really cutting edge, so much so that people would go there almost as tourists to see this amazing display of computing power processing the nation’s tax returns,” he said.
That ancient system, though, is at the heart of problems today, since it’s very difficult and costly to fix something that contains so much data over so many years.
“It’s very hard to sort of start entirely from scratch and build an entirely new system,” Mihm says.