TAX reform -- that is, fundamental revision of the United States Tax Code -- remains a worthy goal (if not in its emerging form in Congress). Equally important, however, and necessary now, is another kind of tax reform: ensuring a more orderly tax collection process by the Internal Revenue Service.
To its credit, and that of Congress, the IRS is taking steps to prevent a repetition of many of the foul-ups that marked this year's tax filing season. Because of problems within the IRS involving installation and start-up of a new central computer system, large numbers of returns were processed far later than usual, costing the IRS some 74 percent more in interest payments than was the case last year. Many taxpayers waited months for their refund checks. In some unfortunate cases, taxpayer records were
lost or destroyed.
Furthermore, thousands of erroneous delinquency notices were sent out to frustrated taxpayers -- the result of faulty computer tapes.
Ironically, despite such problems, the Reagan administration wanted to cut, rather than increase, the IRS budget. After intense give-and-take between Capitol Hill and the White House, Congress recently completed action on a bill appropriating $3.7 billion for the IRS for fiscal year 1986 -- an increase of $76 million above the administration's original request. But the IRS appropriation was included within a larger package involving the Treasury and the postal system. President Reagan vetoed that legisl ation just before flying off to Geneva. It is important that the funding for the IRS be soon enacted into law, either as part of a larger appropriation bill, or as an independent measure.
Surely, while the IRS needs to economize, along with other federal agencies, there should be no stinting of necessary funds to enable the agency to process taxes in a far more orderly manner than took place this year.
The Internal Revenue Service is well aware of the need for upgrading its procedures.
It plans to improve taxpayer services this year. Additional lines are being installed for telephone assistance. Employees who process returns will undergo more comprehensive training. Computers are being upgraded. And software is being rewritten.
In fairness to the IRS and its 90,000 employees, the many filing problems that occurred last year should be viewed in the context of the agency's effort to put in the new computer linkup. That said, it would be hard to disagree with Senate majority leader Robert Dole, who in backing increased funding for the IRS, asks ``whether our tax system can withstand another year in which the taxpayers' faith in the system is severely challenged'' -- as it was last year.
Long-range reform of the United States Tax Code remains a worthy goal.
So too does an immediate reform of the IRS collection and processing system.