Justin Elliott reports that Congress appears ready to prohibit the IRS from offering free online tax filing:

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are moving to permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic tax filing system. …

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.passed the Taxpayer First Act, a wide-ranging bill making several administrative changes to the IRS that is sponsored by Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa.

In one of its provisions, the bill makes it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system of tax filing. Companies like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block have lobbied for years to block the IRS from creating such a system. If the tax agency created its own program, which would be similar to programs other developed countries have, it would threaten the industry’s profits. …

Experts have long argued that the IRS has failed to make filing taxes as easy and cheap as it could be. In addition to a free system of online tax preparation and filing, the agency could provide people with pre-filled tax forms containing the salary data the agency already has, as ProPublica first reported on in 2013. …

Intuit and H&R Block last year poured a combined $6.6 million into lobbying related to the IRS filing deal and other issues.

Devin Coldewey, meanwhile, reports the latest from the U.S. Digital Service, which exists to modernize existing federal services, websites, etc.:

The USDS is a small department that takes on creaking interfaces and tangled databases of services for, say, veteran benefit management or immigration documentation, buffing them to a shiny finish that may save their users months of literal paperwork.

… the USDS overhauled VA.gov, which is how many veterans access things like benefits, make medical appointments, and so on. But until recently it was kind of a mess of interconnected sub-sites and instructional PDFs. USDS interviewed a couple thousand vets and remade the site with a single login, putting the most-used services right on the front page. Seems obvious, but the inertia of these systems is considerable. …

These projects are often short-term, putting modern web and backend standards to work and handing the results off to the agency or department that requested it. The USDS isn’t built for long-term support but acts as a strike team putting smart solutions in place that may seem obvious in startup culture but haven’t yet become standard operating procedure in the capitol.

The work they do is guided by impact, not politics, which is likely part of the reason they’ve managed to avoid interference by the Trump administration…

“I signed up for a three month tour, and that was three years ago,” [head of the U.S. Digital Service Matt Cutts] said. “It’s really a whole civic tech movement here, there are a ton of people sort of holding hands and working together. There’s also stuff happening at the state and local level, at the international level, from the UK to Estonia and Singapore — everyone’s starting to realize this matters.”

I remember reading about the corporate lobbying effort to kill free tax filing a year or two ago, when lobbyists for the for-profit companies were trying to rally people under something like the banner of “Keep government out of the tax filing process!” I don’t think it was quite that intellectually self-defeating, but it was nearly so.

It’s a scandal that there might be a bipartisan Congressional consensus that is allowing the IRS to tie its own hands from serving Americans with a simpler filing process.