IRS Fine-Tunes e-File System to Prevent Processing Delays

By Jason Bramwell
 
After performance issues to its electronic filing system caused delays in processing tax returns during the 2012 filing season, the IRS has made several enhancements to the system over the past year that are expected to improve the tax-filing process, according to a report released May 30 by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
 
The electronic filing system, called Modernized e-File (MeF), enables real-time processing of tax returns while improving error detection, standardizing business rules, and expediting acknowledgments to taxpayers.
 
However, during the 2012 filing season, the IRS had to suspend MeF system processing on at least two occasions to correct system performance issues.
 
"IRS management noted that the performance issues first experienced on January 17, 2012, might have been caused by the large volume of tax returns received by the MeF system during the first day of processing. According to the IRS, the volume of returns received by the MeF system on January 17, 2012, was one of the largest the IRS had ever received to date," the TIGTA report states. "The second incidence of MeF system performance issues started in late January 2012. These issues primarily included delays sending files to downstream systems and delivering of acknowledgments, which resulted in delays in processing individual tax returns." 
 
The IRS reviewed the problems with the MeF system and identified four major work stream categories where the issues were occurring:  
  1. Performance test
  2. On-demand services (ODS)
  3. Portal readiness and testing
  4. Monitoring
Enhancements Made
The performance test and portal readiness and testing work streams directly affect the timely submission of tax returns for processing. According to the report, the IRS modified its testing strategy by incorporating enhancements, such as the use of a production-sized database and performance testing for a duration of forty-eight hours, to ensure that the agency could process the anticipated volume of returns for the 2013 filing season. The tests concluded that the MeF system would meet peak-performance requirements. 
 
Additionally, the IRS increased the bandwidth of the portal that serves as the entry point for web-based access to IRS applications and data, from 45 megabits per second (Mbps) to 155 Mbps. Because other IRS applications use the same portal as the MeF system, this increased bandwidth helps guard against a decrease in overall performance. 
 
The IRS developed requirements for the ODS to deliver files to downstream systems. For example, the ODS will deliver data to the Generalized Mainline Framework (GMF) at specified times each day, according to the TIGTA report. The GMF is a service center pipeline processing system that validates and perfects data from a variety of input sources. Tax returns, remittances, information returns, and adjustment and update transactions are controlled, validated, corrected, and passed on for master-file posting. 
 
The ODS will also deliver data to the IRS Electronic Fraud Detection System (EFDS) every hour on the hour. The EFDS is a stand-alone automated system designed to maximize fraud detection at the time tax returns are filed to prevent questionable refunds from being issued.
 
Summary data is then created for reports showing the counts of the returns submitted downstream. The ODS removes data that have aged past their required retention period. 
 
The IRS is working on implementing new monitoring tools and automated ticket generation to improve its ability to monitor and measure the MeF system's availability, as well as to help address the system's eighty-nine technical monitoring requirements for the 2013 filing season, the TIGTA report states. 
 
As of February 10, 2013, the IRS has implemented sixty-seven of the eighty-nine requirements. Unresolved issues caused a delay in implementing the remaining twenty-two requirements. 
 
"Some of the unresolved issues include problems with the functionalities of a monitoring application, monitoring solutions not yet developed, and events initiating the auto-tickets not being generated or received," the TIGTA report states. "The IRS planned to deploy the remaining technical monitoring requirements during the 2013 filing season; however, it has yet to identify the implementation dates." 
 
The IRS invested approximately $6.7 million to correct the issues that were plaguing the four work streams, according to the TIGTA report.
 
"The MeF system is a critical component to meet the needs of taxpayers, reduce taxpayer burden, and broaden the use of electronic interactions," Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George said in a press release. "Collectively, the various categories of work should provide the enhancements intended to correct problems associated with the 2012 filing season and give the IRS assurance of the MeF system's readiness for the 2013 filing season."
 
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