Open Source Taxes, the IRS, and Dr. Seuss

Austan Goolsbee wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about how Americans face an overwhelming burden every year spending time and money to file tax forms. Much of the information entered onto the tax forms is information that has already been sent to the IRS leading Goolsbee to suggest that the IRS could aggregate this information and send each of us a form with this information already pre-filled meeting the needs of the majority of taxpayers with fairly simple returns. This idea led Tim O’Reilly to comment, “Web 2.0 you say? Well yes. If Google were running the IRS, it’s what they’d do.”

This started me thinking …

What if the IRS was run by open source? Would we have collaborative tax returns? I could opt-in to the “open source taxes” program on the IRS site to start my return, which could be populated with the information that the IRS already has on file. Other organizations could collaboratively add information to my return (charitable deductions, etc.) I could collaborate with other tax preparers for free help and advice or pay someone like a traditional tax preparation company to provide this type of support and service (the Red Hat business model). Some savvy programmers would create nifty open source tools that allow me to simplify my tax return for certain obscure, long-tail scenarios that I share with only 25 other people in the world.

“If I ran the zoo, I’d make a few changes. That’s just what I’d do.” Dr. Seuss.