IRS still grappling with e-Services delay

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The Internal Revenue Service has not been able to upgrade its online e-Services applications to a more secure authentication method, the IRS admitted Friday.

In an email to tax professionals, the IRS provided an update on the repeated delays, some of which stem from a $7.25 million non-bid contract it signed and then suspended with Equifax, the credit bureau that is now facing fallout from a massive data breach (see IRS puts Equifax contract on hold).

“Because the IRS is still reviewing its contract options for an identity-proofing vendor, the move of e-Services to Secure Access authentication will be delayed,” said the IRS. “The transition was originally planned for later this month. As of today, we do not have a new date. We will communicate via Quick Alert as soon as a new launch date is set.”

The IRS has faced problems in recent years from data breaches in some of its e-Services, such as the Get Transcript and Identification Protection PIN apps, allowing cybercriminals to access taxpayer information and file fraudulent tax returns. The IRS needed to close the Get Transcript app in 2015 and the IP PIN app last year before adding improved authentication procedures last year (see IRS relaunches ‘Get Transcript’ app with better authentication and IRS restores IP PIN tool with improved authentication). It also had to close down the Data Retrieval tool for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid after discovering vulnerabilities this past tax season. The tool reopened this month (see IRS plans to reopen FAFSA student loan tool on October 1).

However, the IRS added that the technology upgrade of moving e-Services to a new platform still continues, which means that some of its apps are still unavailable, including one for getting an electronic filing identification number. “This means you are unable to take certain actions, like requesting an EFIN, viewing or updating an application,” said the IRS. “We recognize this is creating a hardship for some of you. Once the applications become available, which should be soon, we will have additional personnel available for the e-Help Desk to assist you and process your requests and applications as a priority.”

IRS officials were grilled this week during a hearing before the House Oversight Committee over problems with its antiquated technology and hiring practices, although many of the problems stem from budget cuts at the hands of Congress. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George testified Wednesday at the hearing. “From the exploitation of IRS’s Get Transcript application to that of the Data Retrieval Tool, the IRS has found that with each systemic weakness it closes criminals have discovered another means to access tax information from the IRS. In addition, the recent breach at Equifax that exposed sensitive personal information, including Social Security Numbers, could increase the risk of identity theft,” he said in his written testimony. “As the threat landscape continues to evolve, we believe that protecting the confidentiality of taxpayer information will continue to be a top concern for the IRS.”

The IRS apologized Friday for the inconvenience and delays and asked tax professionals to continue with their work in the meantime. “Please continue your organizational activities to prepare for Secure Access migration,” said the IRS. “We apologize for the inconvenience. Please know that we are doing our best to provide you with a series of upgraded services that will not only will make e-Services easier to use but also make it more secure for you and your clients.”

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Identity theft protection Identity verification Tax tools Data breaches E-filing IRS Equifax