Really, IRS? A two-week delay of the 2014 tax season?

IRS says government shutdown may mean later refund checks for some

Being a last-minute filer of the first order, this news from the IRS will matter little to me, yet I'm having trouble buying that a 16-day government shutdown in October can create an unavoidable need to delay the scheduled Jan. 21 start of the 2014 tax season ... by as much as two weeks.

The IRS announced the delay yesterday and here's how they explained it in a press release:

The government closure came during the peak period for preparing IRS systems for the 2014 filing season. Programming, testing and deployment of more than 50 IRS systems is needed to handle processing of nearly 150 million tax returns. Updating these core systems is a complex, year-round process with the majority of the work beginning in the fall of each year.


About 90 percent of IRS operations were closed during the shutdown, with some major workstreams closed entirely during this period, putting the IRS nearly three weeks behind its tight timetable for being ready to start the 2014 filing season. There are additional training, programming and testing demands on IRS systems this year in order to provide additional refund fraud and identity theft detection and prevention.

"Readying our systems to handle the tax season is an intricate, detailed process, and we must take the time to get it right," said Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel. "The adjustment to the start of the filing season provides us the necessary time to program, test and validate our systems so that we can provide a smooth filing and refund process for the nation's taxpayers. We want the public and tax professionals to know about the delay well in advance so they can prepare for a later start of the filing season."

There's certainly no reason to question that the shutdown would have significant consequences that will take time to overcome.  

But a 16-day shutdown that included two weekends wouldn't seem to represent lost work time of "nearly three weeks," as the IRS release contends. Moreover, the doors of government have been reopened for five days now and there are roughly 55 work days remaining until that originally scheduled Jan. 21 start of tax season.

Did the IRS really set out a preparation schedule that left the agency's IT professionals no cushion whatsoever?

As this item in the Washington Post notes, there are taxpayers for whom a delayed tax return check will matter.

The IRS says it "is exploring options to shorten the expected delay and will announce a final decision on the start of the 2014 filing season in December."

If there's a will there should be a way to make any delay minimal or, better yet, unnecessary.

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