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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Press Releases

April 9, 2014, Contact: Press Office (518) 474-4015

DiNapoli: Vendors Botched Efforts to Process Tax Returns Cost State More Than $6 Million in Overtime

The state Department of Taxation and Finance ran up more than $6 million in overtime costs last year because of systemic problems with a contractor’s processing of paper returns and the department’s failure to fully assess the risks of using a new vendor and stringently monitor its work, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The total cost to taxpayers is expected to jump when interest payments for late refunds and pay for staffers who had to put off other duties to remedy the problems are tallied.

“The contractor hired by the state Department of Tax and Finance failed to meet many of its contract requirements and things quickly spun out of control,” DiNapoli said. “The significant quality issues and delays in tax returns processing in 2013 could have been avoided had the Tax Department done its homework and closely monitored the contractor. On a positive note, the department has taken steps to address last year’s problems and appears to be much better prepared for 2014.”

The Department of Tax and Finance is responsible for processing the state’s 10.9 million income tax returns, about 2 million of which are submitted as paper returns. In compliance with state law, in 2011 the department contracted with New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID), a workforce advocacy organization with preferred source status, to process the state’s paper returns for tax processing years 2013 to 2015. Because this was a preferred source contract, it was not subject to competitive bidding.

NYSID partnered with a private firm - SourceHOV - to provide equipment and services needed to process the paper returns. Although NYSID is the prime contractor, its duties are largely administrative in nature. SourceHOV performs the technical work of tax returns processing. Tax Department staffers are responsible for overseeing the vendors and their work. NYSID/SourceHOV’s three-year contract is valued at about $16 million. As of Feb. 6, 2014, the department had paid out only $234,000, primarily to fund start-up costs, because of its failure to meet contract terms.

DiNapoli’s auditors tested the accuracy of the return data submitted to the department, the timeliness of return processing by SourceHOV and the quality of the data imaging of return information, finding problems in all areas.

The auditors determined that SourceHOV made errors on at least 22 percent (439,000) of the returns it processed. The vendor’s mistakes included erroneous taxpayer social security numbers, wrong withholding amounts, and incorrect reported wages and income. The error rate is more than 40 times the level deemed acceptable by contract performance standards and could result in a 44 percent reduction in compensation under the terms of the contract.

Testing also showed that more than 90 percent of the returns (1.8 million) were not processed on time. In fact, 80 of the 100 returns in the sample took more than a month to process rather than the seven days allowed by the standards. Department officials agreed that SourceHOV failed to meet the minimum standard of performance for timeliness from the very start of the contract. Based on partial information provided by the Tax department, it appears SourceHOV was only averaging about 8,800 electronic transmissions per day - about one-third of the volume specified in the contract.

SourceHOV digitally scans each paper return that it processes. The scanned images are saved and data from them is entered into the department’s systems. The quality of this digital imaging process is critically important since the original paper returns are eventually destroyed and the scanned images become the official record. Reviews of flagged returns by both Tax Department personnel and DiNapoli’s auditors found significant problems in quality, including illegible or blank documents, returns with pages scanned out of sequence, and scanned documents with pages missing.

Auditors determined that the failure to implement the terms of the contract could be attributed to several causes, including:

  • The Tax Department did not perform on-site testing of SourceHOV’s processes or review its controls, quality assurance measures or procedures;
  • In providing tax processing services to the state, SourceHOV had two different software systems available for use. The software SourceHOV chose, however, was not adequate for the task; and
  • Neither the vendor nor the Tax department established an adequate on-site management structure to monitor operations and address problems as they arose.

Because the Tax Department did not adequately assess the risks or potential impacts of a new vendor taking over the processing of paper returns, it failed to develop contingency plans if the vendor could not fulfill the terms of the contract.

DiNapoli recommended the department:

  • Adjust compensation to be paid to the vendor based on its poor performance and costs incurred by the department; and
  • Determine if processing of paper returns in-house or by a third-party vendor best meets the long-term practical and fiscal needs of the department.

Auditors found the Tax Department has made significant changes to correct the prior problems, support contractor performance, and ensure a more successful processing year for 2014. It has established an on-site management team consisting of approximately 17 full-time staff to work directly with SourceHOV and has worked collaboratively with SourceHOV to test new software and to improve optical character recognition processes as well as the flow of opening and sorting the returns received. As a result, the Tax Department is now better able to continuously monitor the contractor’s performance and react quickly to problems that may occur.

For a copy of the full report visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093014/13s64.pdf

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