Tax season is upon us and outdated technology at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may be delaying your tax return and refund, according to one government watchdog.

A new blog post from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) explains how the primary IT system that the IRS uses to process individual taxpayer account data is decades old and outdated.

“This critical system helps IRS assess taxes, generate refunds, update accounts, and more. It was built in the late 1960s, around the same time NASA’s Apollo missions were first sending astronauts to the moon,” GAO wrote. “The system has been updated over the years, but maintaining it is getting harder because it relies on a computer programming language (COBOL) that fewer and fewer programmers know.”

GAO warned that the aging IT system can slow down tax returns and refunds, as well as “make taxpayer information vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

The agency’s new report reveals that the IRS has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to update the system, known as the Individual Master File. However, IRS officials said the system would not be fully replaced until 2030 at the earliest.

Additionally, the IRS faced another setback earlier this year when the agency suspended six of the 21 modernization initiatives it was working on “because their resources were reassigned to address higher organizational priorities,” according to Dave Hinchman, GAO’s acting director of the Information Technology and Cybersecurity team.

“We still haven’t seen what impact this will have on that targeted completion date of 2030 for replacing the Individual Master File,” Hinchman said on a new GAO podcast.

In its recent report, the government watchdog agency recommends that the IRS establish time frames to address how it disposes of legacy IT systems.

“At the end of the day, IRS relies extensively on information technology to perform mission-critical functions. IT is literally the vehicle on which our taxes are processed,” Hinchman said, honing in on the bottom line of the report.

“However, this vital technology relies on the heavy use of outdated and expensive legacy systems. And these legacy systems are the same things that contribute to security risks, unmet mission needs, and shortage of skilled staff,” he continued. “IRS needs to identify timeframes for completing those plans, and then follow through on those timeframes to help ensure the success of their modernization efforts.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.