IRS ‘Future State’ is now just a 5-year plan

In 2014, the Internal Revenue Service began talking up a new initiative for interacting with taxpayers online, calling it the “Future State” vision, allowing taxpayers to communicate with the IRS and deal with their taxes via the internet.

The IRS is now phasing out the term, but instead it's incorporating some of the concepts in its five-year strategic plan, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

As originally conceptualized, the Future State vision would improve taxpayer service, enforcement and operations, while allowing the IRS to adapt to its shrinking budget and leverage its aging technology and better respond to the increasing complexity of the federal tax system and changing expectations of IRS services. To guide the vision, the IRS shrunk the original 19 objectives from its Strategic Plan down to a core set of objectives that it then used to develop six strategic themes:

1. Facilitate voluntary compliance by empowering taxpayers with secure and innovative tools and support.

2. Understand non-compliant taxpayer behavior and develop approaches to deter and change it.

3. Leverage and collaborate with external stakeholders.

4. Cultivate a well-equipped, diverse, skilled and flexible workforce.

5. Select highest value work using data analytics and a robust feedback loop.

6. Drive more agility, efficiency, and effectiveness in IRS operations.

IRS officials referred to the Future State as a set of guiding principles as opposed to a specific plan to transform the agency. Now the ideas and concepts in the Future State vision have become part of the IRS’s strategic plan for fiscal years 2018 to 2022, which the agency issued earlier this year. Even though the IRS has been phasing out use of the phrase “Future State, the six strategic plan goals closely match the six Future State themes, according to the GAO. IRS officials told the GAO the shift is more of a rebranding than a policy change because the work that was part of the Future State vision is going to continue.

IRS officials said it would make more sense to merge the Future State vision with the new strategic plan to create a single consistent IRS vision. In August, IRS officials told the GAO they’re preparing to issue communications to the public about the transition from the Future State to the new strategic plan and its implementation.

"While the IRS Future State was a long-term visioning effort, the Fiscal Year 2018 – 2022 IRS Strategic Plan guides the implementation of the IRS vision for the future through our programs and operations. It reflects the aspirational, yet actionable work IRS is doing and will do to fulfill our mission," said the IRS in describing the transition in August.

"As we deliver our FY 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, we remain committed to the Future State vision to improve voluntary compliance by developing new and more effective ways to interact with taxpayers, tax professionals and other stakeholders," wrote Kirsten B. Wielobob, deputy commissioner for services and enforcement at the IRS, in response to the GAO report. "We look forward to working with our various partners to advance this vision for IRS's service and enforcement activities."

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters stands in Washington, D.C., U.S. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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