Government and software industry officials proclaimed this year's filing season a success, with numbers up in nearly every category.

E-filing crossed the 70 million mark, and is up 6.2 percent over last year at the same point, Electronic Tax Administration director Bert DuMars told the spring meeting of the Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement, a government-private industry trade association.

Although Free File Alliance filings were down by over 21 percent, online filing by do-it-yourselfers was up 18 percent, accounting for nearly 20 million of the 70 million-plus e-filed returns, said DuMars.

Other speakers at the meeting addressed congressional complaints against the Free File Alliance, including a suggestion by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and chairman of the Finance Committee, that the Internal Revenue Service provide a direct filing portal to enable all taxpayers to file electronically for free at the IRS Web site.

Speakers roundly critiqued that proposal, as well as proposals for a "return-free" system. "We have grave concerns about government competition in the private sector," said Ken Kurokawa, director of government affairs at the Computer & Communications Industry Association.There is an inherent conflict of interest when the tax collector becomes the tax preparer, said aides to Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. Hart and Eshoo are co-sponsors of H.R. 5114, the Tax Return Choice Act of 2006, recently introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill, with 88 Republican and 17 Democrat co-sponsors, would prohibit the IRS from doing individual tax returns other than through the programs already offered in the Free File Alliance, Taxpayer Assistance Centers, Tax Counseling for the Elderly and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs.

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