Monday, April 25, 2016

THE TAX MAN - IRS Commissioner

"IRS commissioner:  Funding cuts hinder security, efficiency" PBS NewsHour 4/18/2016

Congress, hint, YOU HAVE TO FUND upgrades for cyber security.


SUMMARY:  The IRS is facing tougher scrutiny than ever from Congress.  Last week, lawmakers repeatedly pressed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on why the agency wasn't moving faster to improve cybersecurity, after hackers were able to breach its computers last year.  Koskinen joins Judy Woodruff to discuss their challenges.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  This is the day that the tax man cometh, or, more accurately, the day when millions of Americans will finish filing their taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service is never popular again.  But this year, it's facing ever tougher scrutiny, especially from Republicans in Congress.  Last week, lawmakers repeatedly pressed IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on why the agency wasn't moving faster to improve cyber-security.  The IRS has acknowledged hackers were able to breach its computers last year and swipe sensitive information about hundreds of thousands of taxpayers.

John Koskinen joins me now.

Mr. Koskinen, thank you for being with us.

JOHN KOSKINEN, IRS Commissioner:  Delighted to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What is it going to take to restore the confidence of the American people in the IRS?

JOHN KOSKINEN:  Well, I think what we have to do is first demonstrate to them that it's a fair system, that, if you hear from us, it's because of something in your return, not because who you voted for, what party you belong to, what church you go to.

Also, I think they have to understand that security of our data is a high priority.  Our systems are secure.  The problem has been that criminals organized around the world have a vast amount of personal information available to them.  And so they are increasingly successful as masquerading as taxpayers.

So, when they have gotten into some of our applications, it's because they had already stolen the information somewhere else and could in fact pretend very effectively that they were the taxpayer.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, when members of Congress after the IRS, come after you and say, why aren't you able to prevent this kind of thing, do you say it is just not doable?

JOHN KOSKINEN:  No, I say that we need to and are continuing to increase the levels of security, the authentication we require of taxpayers before they have access to significant applications that we're developing and continuing to roll out.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And that's it?

JOHN KOSKINEN:  And that's it.

Well, and I think we have taken down the applications — two applications that were accessed by criminals masquerading as taxpayers.  And we will bring them back up with higher levels of authentication.  But, unfortunately, while it makes it more difficult, if not possible for the criminals to get through, it will be a little more difficult for the taxpayers to get through as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF:  You mentioned adequate funding.  It’s something, I think, many Americans look at the IRS and they say, well, why do you need more money?  You already have so much.  And, you know, why can’t you make do with what you have?

JOHN KOSKINEN:  Well, our budget was cut for five years in a row from 2010 to 2015 by over $1 billion, which meant that we have lost 15,000 to 17,000 employees over that time frame.

So, while we need to be more efficient and are working to do that, at some point — we have 10 million more taxpayers than we had — at some point, you actually begin to destroy the effectiveness of the agency.  So whether it’s taxpayer service, taxpayer enforcement, or even protection of the database, as we continue to struggle for funding, we continue to be at risk.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what does that mean for the American people?

JOHN KOSKINEN:  Well, it means that we estimate we are collecting $4 billion or $5 billion a year less than we would if we had 5,000 revenue agents, officers and criminal investigators we used to have five years ago.

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