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IRS struggles to secure sensitive info

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The United States House of Representatives Research and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing on Thursday, April 14, to delve into cybersecurity at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The committee grilled IRS Commissioner John Koskinen after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported recently about the agency’s severe cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Bluntly stated, concerns grow that Koskinen’s agency is woefully unprepared to protect taxpayer data from cyber-attacks, including security gaps that could expose taxpayers’ most sensitive data to hackers and cyber criminals. Additionally, the IRS has apparently failed to fully implement 94 outstanding GAO cybersecurity recommendations.
Chairman Lamar Smith noted, “For cyber criminals, this information is similar to making duplicate keys to your house. It’s a license to steal whenever and wherever the criminals find an opportunity.”
On May 26, 2015, government officials announced that criminals had gained unauthorized access to taxpayer information through an online application by accurately answering taxpayers’ security questions. As a result, over 700,000 taxpayers have had their personal and tax data stolen.
“The IRS security breach demonstrates once again that rigorous adherence to all cybersecurity protections must be the top priority for every federal agency,” Smith said. “Slow responses and partial measures at the IRS do not protect innocent Americans from these cyber-attacks. The government should be accountable to the people and keep Americans’ sensitive information secure.”
Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Barbara Comstock, a Republican from Virginia, added, “(At this time), the only question on taxpayers’ minds should be when they will receive their tax refund, and not whether someone else has already beaten them to it.
“As someone whose information was compromised in last year’s OPM hack, I assure you, more security is better than less.”
As a recent editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted: “IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who says the agency’s systems are sound, hasn’t indicated what steps will be taken to address the GAO’s latest findings. At the same time, he pointed out the agency’s ‘human capital resource limitations.’
“But changing passwords and limiting staff access to taxpayers’ personal information are matters of common sense, not cash flow. It’s past time for the IRS to exercise more of the former to secure its data and reclaim its credibility.”
Additionally, other Republican leaders have claimed that Americans are “rightfully skeptical” of an agency that has systematically abused its power, targeting political opponents, while routinely blaming insufficient funding for its own negligence.
So far this year, Republicans in the House have already enacted seven new laws to rein in the IRS and hold its employees accountable. However, many feel that more work is needed to protect hardworking taxpayers.
According to a report published last November by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS’ identity authentication methods for online services do not comply with Government Information Security Standards.
As a result of these vulnerabilities, the TIGTA report found that “… unscrupulous individuals have gained unauthorized access to tax account information.”
Long a proponent of reining in the IRS, Smith recently noted, “I have made it a priority to reduce and repeal onerous taxes to allow Texas families and job creators to keep more of what they earn. I will continue to support measures in the House of Representatives to lower the tax burden on Americans and move toward a simpler, fairer system.”
He has cosponsored House Resolution 27, the Tax Code Termination Act. This bill would abolish the Internal Revenue Code and require Congress to approve a new federal tax system.
Additionally, last year Smith supported – and the House passed – HR 1105, the Death Tax Repeal Act. According to Smith, taxes, including the death tax, force families to incur taxes as high as 40 percent after a relative’s death. “These taxes are the reason why many family farms and small businesses must be sold, and are also part of the reason why 70 percent of businesses do not survive to the second generation,” Smith said.
In December, Smith voted for a measure to restore the sales tax deduction and make it a permanent part of this country’s tax code. As he explained, “This deduction would allow as many as one in five Americans, who live in states like Texas that do not have an income tax, to deduct sales taxes on their federal tax returns. This change has the potential to save Texans billions of dollars.”
For more information on the IRS hearing, visit http://www.speaker.gov/general/irs-chief-face-house-panel-cybersecurity-concerns-intensify#sthash.qpcWOduS.dpuf.
For more information on Smith’s work, visit the 21st District's website, www.lamarsmith.house.gov .