Subject: Re: a bit OT- Fully Open Standards for Citizen-Government
From: Tom Lord <>
Date: Mon, 18 Apr 2005 09:39:20 -0700 (PDT)

[This wound up being more a reply to cpm than gumby but I've 
 preserved the thread-location headers, anyway.  Specifically,
 the quote (">") below is not from Gumby but from Chip.]

On the eve of tax day in the US, NPR did a long call-in show with, among
others, some representatives of the IRS.

They have a very clear mission lately: (1) improve *service* to
honest, especially average-wages taxpayers; (2) get real good at
enforcing across the spectrum of cheats (from small to huge) -- with
an ackowledged history or perceived history from the 70s of being too
tough on little guys over nebbishy issues and too weak on big guys over
issues that really matter.

The folks in charge include some with a strong background in marketing 
and view the service component as a mix of a need for new infrastructure 
(easy, they seem to think) and new marketing -- to get people to use it.

So, at the top of the decision chain in the IRS, the metrics of interest
are, for example, graphs of customer (taxpayer) adoption of various filing
technologies, perhaps waited by the costs to both taxpayer and IRS for using
those technologies.

Example: there is a very old, very expensive to operate interface called
"telefile" -- you can file-by-phone.   Few use it (though some love it)
and it's *the* most expensive way for the IRS to collect a return -- it
is going away next year or so (I forget, exactly).

  > He [guy from Intuit] gave a stat, that for tax year 2004 (I think)
  > over 50 percent of individuals filed their taxes
  > "electronically". As I don't use Tax software, I don't completely
  > understand what this means.

That stat is not accidental.  It is *exactly* the stat that the
bigwigs at the IRS are pimping.  I'd guess it's the top-line of
presentations to congressional committees and stuff like that.  They
compare it to adoption rates for electronic interfaces displacing
paper interfaces in other financial sectors (e.g., the IRS is winning
more users than on-line banking, as a percentage of all users (by some
variation of this metric)).

Approaching an organization persuing *those* metrics with an "open standards"
proposal and the (dubious?) carrot of bringing free software users into 
the fold --- it'll be a challenge.

Logically and forsightfully, it'd be the right thing to do.   I think it 
fits with a long-term view of the metrics those guys are using.   Good
luck getting anywhere the first time the choice is between a proprietary
guy beating back standards but getting 4% more taxpayers in 3 years vs. a free
software guy promising something that will make sense in retrospect, 7 years
(or whatever) hence (*if* it works).

The IRS reps sounded like guys at an organization enjoying a lot of success
these days, at least as they measure it.   

Good luck.