Congress Presses IRS to Better Protect Taxpayer Info

Congress Presses IRS to Better Protect Taxpayer Info

The House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday on the 2016 filing season and the Internal Revenue Service’s cybersecurity efforts.

“I am pleased to report that the 2016 filing season has gone smoothly in terms of tax return processing and the operation of our information technology systems,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in his opening statement. “Through April 8, the IRS has received more than 107 million individual returns, on the way to an expected total of 150 million. We have issued more than 81 million refunds totaling more than $228 billion.”

He credited the extra $290 million boost in funding for helping the IRS improve taxpayer service, particularly on phone calls, for which it added 1,000 temporary employees. But Koskinen admitted a backlog in responding to taxpayer correspondence, with about 300,000 pieces of correspondence still awaiting an answer after more than 45 days.

One of the main focuses of the hearing was cybersecurity and protecting taxpayer information. Koskinen said the IRS is working continuously to protect its main computer systems from intrusions and attacks and preventing criminals from accessing taxpayer information in its databases. However, he admitted there were challenges, and the IRS had to take down its Identity Protection PIN system for identity theft victims after criminals were able to gain access.

“The reality is criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are gathering vast amounts of personal information as the result of data breaches at sources outside the IRS,” said Koskinen. “We must balance the strongest possible authentication processes with the ability of taxpayers to legitimately access their data and use IRS services online. It is important to note that cybercrime (theft by unauthorized access) and privacy breaches are increasing across the country in all areas of government and industry. Cyber criminals and their methods continue to grow in sophistication, frequency, brazenness, volume and impact. IRS will continue to be challenged in our ability to maintain currency with latest technologies, processes and counter-measures.” Read more on Accounting Today.