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Opinion
Stephen Mihm

The IRS Really Needs Some New Computers

The tax agency's embrace of IBM in the 1950s helped drive down audit rates. It's still depending on the same code.
1040 eaters.

1040 eaters.

Photo by U.S. News & World Report Collection/Marion S Trikosko/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Taxpayers who rushed to complete Form 1040 by Tuesday’s deadline can take some comfort from the fact that they’re exceedingly unlikely to get a follow-up visit from the Internal Revenue Service. Over the past 50 years, audit rates have fallen pretty steadily. Today, the average taxpayer has one chance in 200 of getting audited.

The downward trend has led to concerns that the IRS needs more funding to do its job correctly and competently. That’s true, but before Congress throws money at hiring more auditors, it should take aim at the agency’s antiquated computer system. It has helped drive audit rates to all-time lows, but it desperately needs an upgrade.