Is the System Broke or Can It Be Fixed?


It strikes me as funny in how similar IT can be to national issues.  Sure they are different in concept, but both have many problems that are similar.  Take for example any application that has been around for more than a few years.  It probably has been patched and added to several times as the needs and wants of the organization have changed.  Over time these patches make following the code increasingly difficult.  The term ‘spaghetti’ code began as a way to visualized how complex the flow paths have become after repeated changes making it hard to follow any one path from the beginning to the end.  Eventually a point is reached in which the application needs to be rewritten to straighten out the code (the spaghetti), clear out unused code, simplify the data flow, and generally make the system more user and developer friendly.  So how does this apply to national issues?

Recently the IRS has been caught in several scandals.  A few weeks ago you probably heard that the IRS targeted conservative organizations.  While it is true that the rapid growth in the number of 501(c)4 groups claiming tax exempt status which is only supposed to be used for educational and social welfare groups have possibly been misapplied to groups primarily formed to promote political points of view, it seems that the keywords used to identify these groups definitely leaned toward conservative groups more often than not.

That was bad enough.  However, today I woke up to reports on MSN that the IRS ‘accidentally’ published thousands of Social Security numbers online.  If I were conspiracy theory minded, I might ask whether there was any pattern to the numbers that were ‘leaked’.  But let’s not go there for now.  The fact that this was allowed to happen is bad enough no matter what else may have been behind it if anything.

Some other news items related to the IRS include the accusation, also on MSN, that the IRS sent $46 million to 23,994 ‘unauthorized’ aliens at 1 address in Atlanta.  (Would it have made a difference if it were ‘authorized’ aliens?)   It would seem that sending that many refunds to one address, unauthorized alien or not, would send a flag up to someone.  Supposedly this ‘error’ was found by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

It was also reported in MSN that the IRS handing out $70M in bonuses.  Now it did not say specifically who got those bonuses, but it appears to be related to some type of union contract with the IRS.  Now if this were phrased as ‘cost of living’ increases, I don’t suppose anyone would raise an eyebrow, but bonuses?  I work for the government too, state, not federal, and we have not gotten a raise in over 4 years much less a bonus until this year and that raise does not even cover the increase in our insurance premiums and other cost of living expenses.  So how do IRS employees get bonuses especially when federal government agencies have been directed by the administration to cut discretionary spending?

In the final and last report for today on MSN, the IRS appears to enjoy rather liberal travel expenses.  It has been reported that they spend $50 million on hotel suites, dance classes (I suppose this is to allow the auditors to dance around the letter of the law) and baseball games.  We have not been able to go to any job related conferences.  In fact, last year when I spoke at the SQL PASS Summit conference, I had to pay all of my own expenses (those not covered by the conference) even though I was a speaker at that conference. 

Ok, $160 million is not going to fix the federal deficit in of itself, but come one, $46 million here, another $70 million there, $50 million somewhere else and a couple of million we haven’t found yet and before you know it, we’d be talking about some real money.  Can the system be fixed or should it be replaced with either the Flat Tax or Fair Tax alternative?  Coming from a computer programming background, we learn very early on that sometimes it just makes more sense to scrape the current system and create a new one because the old system has too many patches, changes, leftover dead code, etc.  Sound a little like the tax code?  Sure transitions are painful to some, but are we better off with a new system rather than trying to add more patches on top of an already overly patched system?

Please consider that this is not a question of eliminating all taxes (although that may come later).  Rather it begs the question as to whether the system is really broken and needs to be ‘rewritten’. 

 C’ya next time.

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