The IRS emphasized there was no reason to believe taxpayers’ private data had been breached. “There’s no data loss,” the agency said. “Taxpayers have nothing to be concerned about.”
The technology failures delayed millions of taxpayers as they tried to submit their returns online and forcing the agency to push back its original Tuesday deadline to the end of Wednesday. For much of the day, access was blocked for filers who use online tax preparation software, such as TurboTax or tools from H&R Block, or pay their taxes directly to the IRS online. An erroneous page linked to in the IRS’s online payment section described a “Planned Outage: April 17, 2018 — December 31, 9999.”
The IRS said Wednesday that its systems were “fully back up and running” and that it had accepted more than 14 million submissions, including tax returns, extension requests and other filings, since systems had come back online.
Former IRS commissioner John Koskinen said he was not aware of the agency having to extend the tax filing deadline nationally at any point in the past three decades because of software glitches on Tax Day. Mark W. Everson, another former IRS commissioner, also said he was unaware of any comparable past IRS failures on Tax Day.
Congress on Wednesday moved forward with a plan to bolster the IRS.
The House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill aimed at improving the IRS’s online systems, in part by allowing it to accept debit and credit card payments and requiring the IRS to create an online portal for filing 1099 tax returns. The measure passed by a 414-to-3 margin, but it now heads to the Senate, where its future is uncertain.
The vote was scheduled before the IRS experienced its technical difficulties Tuesday, but lawmakers are demanding answers from the IRS about its struggles.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said a probe into what went wrong could be necessary. “It may warrant some kind of investigation. How do you have this computer problem on the most important tax day of the year?” Jordan said. “The onus on them is to find out what caused it and makes sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, plans to send a letter to the IRS asking for an explanation of what caused the glitches and what the agency will do to prevent them from occurring again. “Hardworking taxpayers deserve transparency and lawmakers need to know exactly what happened so we can try and find solutions to avoid a similar or even worse failure in the future,” DelBene said in a statement.
DelBene, a former tech CEO who also served as Washington state’s director of revenue, said the IRS needs to provide more information about what happened.
“I know the importance of making sure the IRS has the proper funding, staff and technology in place so they can carry out their duties for the American people, and I look forward to working with the IRS to get the right answers,” the statement said.
The IRS has more than 60 information-technology systems for managing the cases of individual taxpayers, according to a report submitted to Congress by an internal IRS watchdog. Many of them have not been updated in decades, and two of them are nearly six decades old — the oldest anywhere in the federal government, the report said.
“The IRS is highly vulnerable to IT breakdowns and cyberattacks,” said Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan group that has pushed for changes at the IRS.
The IRS has faced steady budget cuts for nearly a decade, with its staff size falling by about 18,000 employees from 2010 to 2017 and a recent report showing that it can answer only about 60 percent of calls from tax filers.
Congressional Republicans repeatedly attacked the IRS under President Barack Obama, accusing it of unfairly targeting tea party groups and cutting its budget.
Congress approved $320 million in short-term funding to help the IRS implement the new tax law as part of the massive budget deal passed in March, but many lawmakers say more money is needed.
The additional funding came to help the agency implement changes required by a sprawling overhaul of the tax code that Republicans passed in December. It has been working with businesses to make sure they are withholding the correct amounts from employees’ paychecks, as well as rolling out online tools that workers can use to ensure their employers’ calculations are correct.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), a frequent IRS critic, touted Wednesday’s House bill as a major step toward fixing the agency.
“The House just passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan, comprehensive overhaul of the IRS,” Ryan wrote in a post on Twitter. “This restoration of oversight, fairness, and accountability puts customer service at the forefront of the agency.”