A group of lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee are asking the Internal Revenue Service’s acting commissioner, David Kautter, to explain why the IRS’s systems crash occurred on Tax Day, April 17.

The systems crash prevented last-minute filers and their tax preparers from sending in their tax returns for much of the final day of tax season, and the IRS was forced to extend tax season by an extra day until April 18 once the systems were back up and running (see IRS systems run into trouble as tax deadline looms, agency gives taxpayers an extra day to file).

IRS officials have said the crash originated at a system in an IRS facility in Martinsburg, Va., and started around 1:00 to 3:00 a.m., and then fully crashed at 4:00 a.m. The IRS got the system back up and running by 5:00 p.m. when it sent an email to tax professionals. It was down for about 11 hours. The problem seems to have originated with a piece of hardware running the IRS’s master file system that stores taxpayer information. The system was running assembly language, computer code programmed for specific hardware.

The outage came after years of warnings about the IRS’s aging computer systems, some of which date back to the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s. The IRS has suffered a series of budget cuts at the hands of Congress in recent years, and while lawmakers voted this year to increase the IRS’s budget for implementing the new tax law, the agency’s overall budget is still lagging. Last week, the House passed legislation aimed at modernizing the IRS’s information technology, but it has not yet been taken up in the Senate (see House approves IRS reform bills).

In their letter Tuesday, members of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, including Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Chairman Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., and Ranking Member John Lewis, D-Ga., asked Kautter to respond to a series of questions about the crash, including what caused the technical issue, whether any taxpayers’ personal information was compromised, and how the IRS repaired the system failure.

“While we were relieved that the IRS resumed operations of the impacted, electronic services by the end of Tax Day and provided a deadline extension to taxpayers, we would like to understand how this significant disruption of service transpired,” they wrote. “Our hope is that this will not reoccur in the future.”

They noted the IRS systems not only affected the electronic filing system, but also the Direct Pay system and other online taxpayer services, including the Where’s My Refund app. They asked Kautter to respond to their letter by May 4.

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.