Washington D. C.'s Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) sent out letters to some 3,000 residents last week telling them that they had underpaid their taxes, and that the taxes were due 20 June - along with penalties and interest. The only problem was that the letters were wrong.
According to the Washington Post, a software error in a third-party program used by both the District's tax collectors and taxpayers online apparently only credited the affected taxpayers with 10% of the District taxes that were actually withheld.
Making matters worse, the District's tax customer service call center which taxpayers were directed to call was down due to another computer error soon after the incorrect bills were sent out, adding to the anger and frustration of those receiving the letters.
Of course, some other District residents who received similar letters may really owe taxes, but given the glitch, they may think that they too received incorrect tax bills.
As the Post pointed out in its story, the DC OTR has had a myriad of problems with its computers, including a major tax scam a couple of years ago.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.