To the editor: IRS sells out on e-filing

So Intuit, H&R Block, etc., have successfully forced the Internal Revenue Service to abandon the simple mission of allowing consumers to file federal tax forms for free online. ["Taxing times," Aug. 12] Now planned is that you will buy proprietary tax prep software -- and pay filing fees -- for the privilege. The states' direct e-filing sites are to be unplugged as well.

Imagine a basic, free system to allow individuals to complete any of a few dozen Web-based forms with trivial arithmetic and consistency checking, and then submit them directly with simple authentication credentials, such as a mailed password. ... Sorry, I was reminiscing. That was in late 1995, when I was senior Web developer with BTG, a leading systems integrator and contractor for the IRS' Cyberfile project.

We had virtually completed the project in a matter of months, with intended launch before April 1996. It was expected to be the world's most heavily used Web site. Then lobbying by Intuit and others resulted in a halt. Countless hours were diverted to appeasement meetings with them, explaining to deaf ears that we did not fancy giving tax advice.

A return to today's reality finds the IRS abandoning its public e-file site altogether.

Instead, we learn that certain "experienced" tax preparers had been guaranteed a piece of the action by IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti. As "quid pro quo for ... stepping up" to the guaranteed bonanza of customers, Intuit and the others must provide free filing with deluxe tax prep features to low-income tax payers, while charging the rest of us. Imagine their sacrifice of revenue.

Welcome to the new era of ethical business and effective civil service.

Paul Wagner

President, Beyond Systems Inc.

wagner@beyond-systems.com

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