After healthcare mess, do you want D.C. doing your taxes?

By Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason
October 24, 2013

The launch of the Obamacare online exchanges this month has been a disaster for the White House.

Even the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, one of MSNBC’s favorite liberal pundits and a prominent proponent of Obamacare, has described the rollout as an unmitigated failure.

“I really don’t think people should soft pedal what a bad launch this is,” Klein said on Morning Joe this week. “They’ve done a terrible job on this website. We’re a couple of weeks in, and people can’t sign up. People have tried 20, 30, 40 times. I mean it’s one thing for that to be true the first three or four days, it’s another thing for it to be true two or three weeks in.”

In light of this display of gross incompetence from the federal government — paying nearly half a billion dollars for an unworkable website that they had three years to prepare for — Americans should ask themselves: “Is it a good idea to put these bureaucrats in charge of doing our taxes?”

There are perennial calls in Washington for tax returns to be prepared by the Internal Revenue Service. Every April 15, like clockwork, a host of policy analysts take to the airwaves and op-ed pages to opine on how great it would be if the IRS prepared tax returns for most Americans.

There are a number of problems with this proposal, however.

For starters, having the IRS serve in the dual roles of tax collector and tax preparer presents an inherent conflict of interest. The main function of the IRS is to collect taxes, as much as possible. That is how the agency defines success and failure.

To put the government entity responsible for maximizing tax collections in charge of preparing returns would result in a clear conflict of interest — one that would work to the disadvantage of ordinary taxpayers. In our court system, we separate the role of prosecutor from that of judge for a reason.

Second, as demonstrated by the rollout of the Obamacare exchanges, the federal government does not have the bandwidth or the competence to be trusted with the added responsibility of preparing tax returns. The IRS is an unwieldy bureaucratic behemoth that is already under congressional investigation for stifling the First Amendment rights of President Barack Obama’s political opponents and making Star Trek videos at taxpayer expense.

Just this week, the Treasury Inspector General announced that $11.5 billion in fraudulent earned-income tax credits were paid out during the 2012 fiscal year. The IRS also announced that the 2014 tax filing season will be delayed by a week or two.

Aside from not having the capacity to handle the task, a proposal that the IRS prepare tax returns is a solution in search of a problem. For a decade now, 16 private-sector tax software providers have joined to provide free tax preparation services to low- and middle-income households. Over these 10 years, 37 million tax returns have been processed by this private option — saving taxpayers $129 million in administrative costs.

According to Jeffrey Eisenach, managing director of Navigant Economics, having the IRS prepare taxpayers’ returns would require “the largest and most ambitious information technology upgrade in the agency’s history.”

Eisenach also points out that the IRS has a less-than-stellar track record of designing and implementing technology modernization programs. Typical problems include delays, projects going over budget and basic failure. While implementing a tax return preparation system would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take several years, history suggests it could actually take a decade or more and cost billions.

Computerworld put out a report this week that analyzed the last decade of government IT procurements costing more than $10 million. It found that 96 percent fail.  These procurements usually “come in over budget, or vastly too late, or they don’t work at all” Clay Johnson, founder and chief executive officer of the Department of Better Technology, told the Washington Post this week. “If you’re going to spend a whole bunch of money on a process with a 96 percent failure rate,” Johnson said, “it pretty much guarantees it won’t work out that well.”

Requiring the IRS to prepare tax returns for millions of Americans would impose significant demands on its resources. James Maule, a tax law expert at Villanova Law School, describes the headaches this would create for taxpayers.

“Assuming such a system became operational,” Maule said, “what happens if a taxpayer finds a discrepancy between what the IRS puts on the return and what the taxpayer knows is correct? Would the IRS have the resources to change the inaccurate data on information returns imbedded in the system? Under current procedures, the IRS sends notices if there are mismatches with its information, and yet far too many of these automated notices are already incorrect.”

This month’s Obamacare launch provided a preview of the problems that would result from a government tax return preparation initiative. Those who have sought to enroll in Obamacare through the online exchanges have to contend with incorrect data, duplicate enrollment and other errors — such as spouses being counted as children. Sorting these problems out, come tax time, will not be easy

Conflicts of interest aside, the federal government’s plate is already too full. The IRS is responsible for implementing 47 different Obamacare provisions — including the 20 new or higher taxes that are to pay for this new entitlement program.

Starting next year, the agency will begin intrusively asking Americans for personal health identification information. The last thing that the federal government — the IRS, in particular — should be put in charge of, or that taxpayers should trust it with, is preparing tax returns for individuals, families and employers across the country.

 

PHOTO (Top): A busy screen on the laptop of a certified application counselor as he attempted to enroll an interested person for Affordable Care Act insurance, known as Obamacare, at the Borinquen Medical Center in Miami, Florida, October 2, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

PHOTO (Insert 1): A general view of the Internal Revenue Service Building in Washington, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

PHOTO (Insert 2): A man holds his envelopes as he waits in line to mail his family’s income tax returns at a mobile post office near the Internal Revenue Service building in downtown Washington, April 15, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

 

 

27 comments

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NO – a thousand times NO! The IRS can’t make up 16 days lost – and it will be responsible for verifying the incomes of those who apply for Obamacare (that is another story) – it is using contractors – it is a hot mess!

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

Dear Reuters,

It is an insult to your readers’ intelligence to publish this lunatic’s tripe.

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive

This is about the only thing Grover Norquist has been correct on in the past few decades; The IRS should NOT be in the business of preparing tax returns as well as collecting taxes. It is a clear conflict of interest.

I was prepared to dismiss it entirely, because in my opinion Norquist is a lunatic, but even a stopped clock is right once a day on 24 hour time.

Posted by Burns0011 | Report as abusive

What tripe!! Diversion tactics! We need tax reform and we need it NOW. This very smart man is just using political tactics to divert attention form the real problems.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

@Art_In_Seattle:
Agree 100%! Norquist is a very dangerous lunatic who has managed to corrupt many of our Members of Congress (in yet another way). Making pledges to destroy our government is treasonous, certainly anti-Constitutional and should be prohibited to our Representatives.

Lobbyists and other advocacy organizations have taken over the House of Representatives and should be investigated for their criminal activities and stopped. Norquist is the perfect example.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

So Norquist is against a flat tax now? A flat tax means IRS deducts automatically a certain percentage of your income. Like a sales tax, they don’t need your clever math from home. They figure it. Suddenly this scares Norquist. Make up your mind, Grover. Flat tax or no flat tax? I know you read your own page, so just answer. Or can you?

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

I for one am thankful that Grover is such a persistent and stubborn individual that is not easily sway by facts. The longer a horrid philisophical or political stance remains discussed in the public eye, the easier it is for the average person to have thought about it or read about it and developed their own opinion regarding it. So, Grover, who is obviously without connection to reality persists in throwing his childish and obviously wealthy person pandering political philosophies into the faces of the average american. Thank you sir. As you slap the poor and the middleclass over and over and over again it becomes clear who and what you are and what your purpose is. And, even the dumbest of americans will wake up if slapped enough. Good job sir.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Norquist’s bunch is the reason for the healthcare mess. Break the government, shut down the government, then…. complain about how government can’t get it right.

Grover, go back to sleepy.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Not so fast.

Americans still have a right to an answer of a question still pertinent, so let’s have an answer to this:

“Is it a good idea to put these bureaucrats in charge of doing our health care?”

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Norquist, you moron:
Computerworld and many other studies conducted by a variety of vaunted sources over the past few decades have indicated time and again that most IT projects fail – in private industry!

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

@AlkalineState:
It’s like the fiasco in Benghazi. The GOP went out of its way NOT to fund increased security in the State Department for years – and still does – then has the gaul to blame inadequate security on the State Department! The incessant lying is enough to drive a sane person crazy.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

@OneOfTheDumbSheep:
When the Bush Medicare Plan D came out, the signup was a disaster for months – way more complicated than Americare/ Obamacare/ Romneycare even though it is about one percent as complicated than full medical insurance.

Who are these people who want the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to fail? Why? What do they have against helping their fellow citizens? Why do they hate the real Americans so much?

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

First major health care reform in 48 years (Medicare in 1965)… and it’s not working properly just for “two or three weeks” from the start.
Pretty good odds for overall success I’d say…

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

How much to these lobbyists contribute to buy a forum for their propaganda here ?

Posted by brianpforbes | Report as abusive

Geez… If Grover G. Norquist has no other topic but to criticize the government Web-site, it means that the situation in the GOP is really, really bad.
If a party can’t even substantialize the troubles to deal with – a hell lots of troubles! – it is really in a big trouble.

Posted by OUTPOST2012.NET | Report as abusive

I would comment about the mendacity of Grover and his trusty sidekick, but others have taken care of it for me this morning

Thanks guys, I will go back to work now

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

@pshawfanny,

You hit a new high on the “don’t know what you’re talking about” meter.

“When the Bush Medicare Plan D came out, the signup was a disaster for months…”. It isn’t the “rollout”, honey. It’s the whole, idiotic program and what it’s implementation will mean in terms of the American’s daily quality of life.

In the case of Medicare Pt. D, the immediate effect was for “big pharma” to eliminate everyone (like my wife) of limited income from receiving necessary non-generic “new” medications. Since then the price of the medications has only increased because “Uncle Sugar” is paying the bill (not really, it’s us taxpayers).

To this day the “benefits calculator” is a study in frustration that does NOT allow even those of above-average intelligence to EASILY compare the different programs. Captive participants are obligated to stay with their “choice” of a “provider” for a full year, while the “providers are free to drop medications from “coverage” or increase the price of same at any time. Not exactly a level “playing field”.

But what’s worse is that the program added huge administrative complexity and cost to government function, for highly questionable benefit. The program actually INCREASED our out-of-pocket costs when the “compassionate use” pills were eliminated and OUR Pt. D benefits were completely consumed in three or four months for retail-priced pills. Only “big pharma” benefitted financially.

We had other medications it became to our advantage to purchase from Costco Mail Order for cash “on the side” from the Costco Mail Order people (who don’t paerticiate in Pt. D). Then we had to beg to “qualify” again for a NEW “compassionate use” program from the manufacturer for the REST OF THE YESR and then do THAT again year after year.

Bottom line? This program benefitted big pharms, NOT the people actually in need of low-cost medications. We didn’t get a cent of benefit unless we were in the minority of horrendous cost drug userd (why typically don’t live very long). What’s worse, from the beginning we could look down the track and see how this financial train wreck woould play out and there was NO CHOICE to decline to participate!

In similar form, Obamacare will allow the insurance companys another captive audience to exploit. “We, the people, ALREADY can’t get in to see our private physician for minor sickness (which MAY NOT be “minor…we don’t know) until we’re well or needing to go to our hospital’s Emergency ROOM.

Yet tomorrow or the next day there will be a 30+% increase of “covered patients” in the SAME waiting room clamoring for the SAME doctor. That means LESS time with the doctor and LESS CONVENIENCE in access. I may be wrong, but I don’t see this as PROGRESS!

“Real Americans”? A majority where I live are illegal aliens that seem to be born sick or pregnant, and their hoards of children touching or mouthing every immovable waiting surface spreading third world germs this country hasn’t seen in decades.

The doctor’s office is becoming a greater threat to an older but healthy person needing a routine physical or monitoring blood test than skipping the visit and avoiding unnecessary exposure to these “engines of distribution” of plague and germs.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

I’ve been audited once in 35 years, and in that year and in two other years, the IRS has sent me letters saying it owes me more money than was originally figured on the 1040′s.

Do i want them doing my taxes? Sure, why not.

Am i going to listen to a rabid, anti-American insurgent who’s whole goal is to destroy the federal government giving me advice? It ain’t worth the pot it’s pissed into.

Posted by taggert | Report as abusive

I can’t help wondering if the authors of this article have an ulterior motive, like convincing the reader we need a smaller government. Seems to me that this is the dividing line between those who would support this opinion and those who find it disingenuous.

The fact that the roll-out is a disaster is not in dispute. However, using this fiasco as evidence of widespread Government incompetence won’t convince anyone who doesn’t already think that way.

Posted by LEEDAP | Report as abusive

@OOTS, if someone handed you a million dollars, I’m betting your first words would be to grip about having to pay more taxes instead of thank you.
Just say’in Sheepster, you know we all love you….

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

What conflict of interest Grover?

You contend that the IRS is in the business of MAXIMIZING tax revenue.

It is not and has not. Instead it is in the business of ACCURATELY collecting taxes — neither no more nor no less than the law permits and demands.

There are 2 main factions opposed to the IRS calculating taxes:
1) The tax preparers like Turbo Tax because they stand to lose a huge amount of revenue…
2) The Tea Party who is opposed to all taxes and all government.

With those two biased groups opposing the idea that the IRS get in the business of assisting with the calculation of income taxes, how could it be a BAD idea?

Posted by GeorgeBMac | Report as abusive

@GeorgeBMac, very well said sir, I agree 100%.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

GeorgeBMac…how could it be a bad idea? How about virtually every government department or program flawed, inefficient and has arcane tools to work with. Medicare…no other health insurance entity is more riddled with fraud that Medicare. The IRS already gets duped into paying billions in fraudulent refunds every year. Because the IRS today doesn’t have the means to verify that all documentation is accurate. They sent millions of dollars in tax refunds to multiple people at the same address in Florida and no red light went off in their current system. Department of Homeland Security. Created in 2002. Today has a $65B annual budget and 250,000 employees. Last news from this group was they were searching flea markets for fraudulent designer hand bags. NOW, you want to add thousands more employees to the IRS (already riddled with problems) so you don’t have to pay Turbo Tax a measly $50 a year to help you with your taxes? Do you REALLY want to be in the position where the IRS potentially grossly overstates what you owe in taxes? If you have faith in the IRS getting is right..you are a fool.

Posted by xyz2055 | Report as abusive

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal happens to be the second-largest shareholder in News Corp., the parent company of the Fox News Channel.

Posted by userxyz | Report as abusive

The notion that corporate America, private enterprise, and free market produce efficient and cost effective solutions has been proven false over and over again. Bad management exists everywhere, from family owned firms, multinational conglomerates to state, local and federal government. However, conservatives like Norquist only hone in on the government failures and completely ignore the massive, $trillion disasters in private enterprise (banks, oil drillers, telecom, hedge funds, real estate developers, etc.) that tax payers bail out continuously.

Norquist conveniently ignores the cost overruns paid to private companies during the Iraq War; the fact that the Affordable Healthcare Act went to private enterprise to build their infrastructure. Anyone who has worked in technology knows that a national rollout of any major system will have bugs, crashes and numerous fixes. Just look at the various disasters Microsoft has had with its software rollouts.

Why does Reuters give these idiots a pulpit here. They already have Washington big money behind them and relish bankrupting the whole government. Ask Norquist who pays for his healthcare – all in the light of full disclosure. Just like Sen. Cruz attacking national healthcare when he is comfortable taking his wife’s Goldman Sachs healthcare (she is a director at GS).

Hypocracy is very tiring and has no place here.

Posted by Acetracy | Report as abusive

@xyz2055: “How about virtually every government department or program flawed, inefficient and has arcane tools to work with.” – I may or may not agree with this statement of yours, but at least, I have a hope that IRS won’t outsource its jobs to China, or India, or Mexico, etc., which in my view, killed the middle class in this country as well as many US corporate icons (like Kodak, for example) due to management’s greed, complacency and shortsightedness. And speaking of a “measly $50 a year”, I have my doubts that all TurboTax code is Made in the USA also…

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

grover and patrick – have you two had your dna matched yet? too weird!

Posted by jcfl | Report as abusive