Friday, October 09, 2009

Reality Bites

Once in awhile, I come across a real life story that serves as a perfect reminder that the federal government still has much work to do to make citizen services easy to use. A good friend passed along this recent experience, when he tried to go online to make a tax payment. Maryland made it very easy for him to complete the task. The IRS…well, not so much. But I’ll just let him tell the story in his own words.

For Maryland, I logged into In something like 4 or 5 clicks, I found the right place to pay the taxes online. A quick check for bank routing numbers and a calculation of how much we should pay, and we were all done. No muss, no fuss…took me all of maybe 15-20 minutes.

So now, on to Federal.

I began by going to I forget how long it took me to find the payment links. I just know it took me a while--a long while. (It's actually on the front page, but how anyone would know you want EFTPS, I have no clue.) I then go to the EFTPS website, which is the “Electronic Federal Tax Paying System.” Oh, but I'm not actually there. It's a page talking about EFTPS. I have to click on the link and then on the other link saying I acknowledge I'm leaving the IRS site (to go to another IRS site!)

I get to and click on the link to make a payment. But, I need to login. Ok, so I have to "Enroll" to get a login. (Um, you know this is for a single payment, right? But, never mind...). So, I click the link to enroll (buried at the bottom of the page), then the link acknowledging the privacy act, then realize I’m on the page for “businesses.” I back out and notice at the top of the first page that there's a radio button I have to change to “individual.” Ok…so click the radio button, go to the bottom of the page, click the next button, acknowledge the privacy act again, and just that easily I get to the form to fill out to enroll.

Are you still with me?

Ok, at that top of the form is the statement that it takes up to 15 days to enroll. I can't make a payment yet. They have to enroll me and it could take up to 15 days. So, I fill out the form and hope for the best. A few weeks later, I get a notice that I'm enrolled and here's my PIN. Great, I'll go pay our taxes!

Umm, no. I go back to the EFTPS site to try to make a payment, but I have to sign in. It asks me for my SSN... check, I know that one. Then my PIN... check, got that in the mail. Then my "Internet Password." Password? I never set a password. So, I click the link for "Need Internet Password." It gives me a phone number for a voice mail system that tells me to call this other number for a different voice mail system to be issued my internet password. I dial the other number, key in my SSN, my PIN, and my Tracing number and they give me a temporary password.

Remember, how this all took me about 15 minutes to do with the State of Maryland?

So, I go back to the EFTPS site again, type in my SSN, my pin, and my temporary password and am successful. Well, successful in getting to the page to set my permanent password. Which, of course, has to be between 8 and 12 characters, contain at least one capitalized letter and one lower case letter, numbers and a special character (but only certain special characters). After two tries I finally get it to accept a password, and then I'm logged in. Great... I think. Now, to pay those taxes!

First I have to pick which form to use, put in my information, tax year, "effective date" (?) and hit submit. Voila! Taxes paid.

Can you guess which government entity I'd prefer to pay my taxes with electronically? The only reason I'd use the federal online system again is I can't imagine how complicated this would be if I had to deal with offices and people.

If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know I’m adamant that government agencies need to focus like a laser on making their top citizen tasks easy to find and easy to use. That’s how you earn public trust. That’s how you make citizens proud of their government and satisfied that they’re getting their money’s worth, when they pay those taxes. If you had any doubt that I’m telling the truth, go back and read my friend’s story again. That’s reality, folks.


Ari Herzog said...

Hah! The IRS' website. You failed to mention the most important part: the domain!

Go to your browser's location bar and type in and hit enter...and wait for the error message.

Then, type and you get there.

It's been that way for months, if not all the time.

Anonymous said...

I am a Maryland resident and filing and paying taxes with the State of Maryland is incredibly easy. I have never found anything easy on a federal site, and I am a federal employee.