January 9, 2002 9:25 AM PST

Detail-oriented IRS misplaces its hardware

The tables have turned on Mr. Taxman.

The Internal Revenue Service has been working to account for more than 2,300 computers discovered missing in a recent audit of its systems by the Treasury Department, the IRS confirmed Wednesday. The agency, known for its needle-nose style of tax collecting, itself misplaced thousands of PCs, laptops and server equipment.

IRS officials said that since the audit, the agency has located about 1,600 of the missing computer systems. It added that the computers had security software installed that would protect any sensitive data.

"We feel very sure that those missing computers have not compromised taxpayer information," IRS spokesman Bruce Friedland said.

However, Friedland could not say whether the missing computers contained tax returns of U.S. citizens. Information held on the computers could include a "broad range of data depending on the person's job," he said.

This week, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Congress should require the IRS to improve its computer inventory controls before it approves more funding for system upgrades, according to reports.

"An agency that requires taxpayers to show every receipt can't find 2,300 computers," Grassley was quoted as saying in a USA Today report. "The IRS wouldn't accept from a taxpayer the nonanswer it has given."

Friedland said the agency has installed a new inventory computer system to better track its hardware and software. It also is centralizing management to keep track of its inventory.

He said of the 2,300 computers missing, all but 300 of them were more than 3 years old and, consequently, worthless. The IRS said it replaces its computer systems on a three-year cycle.

The agency has 163,000 computers for its roughly 98,000 employees.


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