During my overlong apprenticeship as a teenaged dunce, I used to own a Pontiac GTO, one in a long line of so-called muscle cars Detroit pumped out during the late 1960s and 70s, which were cleverly marketed to immature adolescents such as myself.
Those vehicles were likely the reason behind my father taking out a second mortgage just to cover the insurance and fuel costs of that 370-horsepower monstrosity.
But despite having an engine the size of Pike’s Peak, the car had one saving grace: It was relatively easy to work on — a shade tree mechanic’s dream. This before the advent of every automobile function being controlled by computer chips, which mandated $200 dealership visits for a simple check up.
But that model Pontiac also was notorious for blowing its timing chain at roughly 60,000 miles, and mine ran true to form. So, armed with the requisite 1,000-page Motor & Chilton manual, I set about repairing it myself.
I was about three hours into a job that obviously was going to take much longer when I heard myself uttering arguably the most disheartening cliché of all — “I think I bit off more than I can chew.”
I mention this gross do-it-yourself miscalculation because Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson sounded as resigned as I was that July afternoon in 1974, as he admitted before the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee that the service’s strategy to modernize its 1960s-era computer system would experience substantial delays. In effect they had bitten off more than they could chew.
The service has been trying to replace its antiquated tax-accounting system, but apparently with, or more correctly without, the help of contractors trying to modernize the system, who had grossly underestimated the complexity of the project.
“We did not have the capacity to properly manage such a large portfolio,” and “the result is that we have been unable to devote the resources, energy and attention to meeting our primary goals,” Everson said.
This was equivalent to my mood about the time I removed the head gasket and thumbed through an additional 23 pages of directions on what to do next.
In fact, one of the key contractors, testified that his company basically did not understand the inherent problems associated with the modernization program. In fact, the contractor, a 30-year veteran, said that he had never encountered a project of this scope.
Now I’m probably the last one to ask about tackling a long and involved project, but even I realize that this is the IRS we’re talking about. To my knowledge it’s a fairly large and complex entity, not an easily accessible Ram Air 400 motor.
Did he think this would be a two-day installation upgrade and a few follow-up visits?
The project to date has incurred nearly $300 million in additional costs, exclusive of the $1.7 billion already earmarked for the computer modernization effort.
And fear not, this necessary project will eventually come to fruition. But someone should have realized early on it was a job for the long haul, not one for a shade tree mechanic.
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