John Oliver Begs You to Forgive the IRS and Its Obsolete Technology

Everybody hates the IRS. As John Oliver put it in his latest rant, “Dealing with them is obligatory. It often functions badly. And it combines two of the things we hate most in life: someone taking our money and math.” Good point.


But blaming the Internal Revenue Service for taxes is like blaming a check out clerk for overpriced groceries. In this case, the check out clerk is working with a half-century-old cash register and a dwindling number of co-workers. Congress, who you should blame for taxes, won’t stop cutting the IRS budget, and that’s likely the reason filing taxes seems more problematic every year.

As recently as 2007, over half of the agency’s tax data was stored on magnetic tape. The technology was very cutting edge when it came out… in 1966:

The IRS has been trying to phase out the magnetic tapes but hasn’t been able to due to aforementioned budget cuts. On top of that, the IRS lost over 13,000 employees between 2010 and 2014. Now, most IRS employees are over 50 and less than 1 percent are under 25.

So no wonder you can’t get a human on the phone. No wonder the IRS can’t keep their computers updated, creating issues that cost millions and millions of taxpayer dollars. No wonder it’s so easy for hackers to steal your account. No wonder we hate the IRS. The good news is that IRS budget cuts mean fewer people get audited. So at least there’s that.

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My biggest gripe with the segment (And this recap):

Magnetic tape isn’t some bizarre obsolete format! It looked like they were using a pretty common LTO setup.

For long term cold storage of data, it’s the most cost effective method, by far. Tapes are cheap, and hold terabytes of data. There’s a lot inconvenient about them , but for bulk storage of infrequently accessed data it’s easily your best option.

Okay, computer nerd rant over.