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administrative and custodial financial statements that are not yet fully corrected. Until resolved, they will continue to prevent us from expressing an opinion on IRS' financial statements in the future. The following sections outline these problems and IRS' improvement plans and progress. Accounting for Administrative Operations Has Improved but Problems Remain
Each year, IRS spends billions of dollars in operating expenses to (1) process tax returns, provide taxpayer assistance, and manage tax programs, (2) enforce tax laws, and (3) develop and maintain information systems. For fiscal year 1995, IRS reported $8.1 billion in operating costs, including $5.3 billion for payroll and other personnel costs and $2.8 billion for the cost of goods and services, such as rent, printing, and acquiring and maintaining automatic data processing equipment.
Our initial financial audits identified serious problems in accounting for and reporting on IRS administrative operations, which has resulted in IRS making improvement in these areas. For example, IRS has successfully
implemented a financial management system (which according to
transferred its payroll processing to the Department of
improved its accounting for payroll expenses. These improvements have made IRS' accounting for its administrative operations much better today than it was 4 years ago. For example, we are now able to substantiate IRS' payroll expenses of about $5 billion. However, the following two major problems still need to be fully corrected.
A significant portion of IRS' reported $3 billion in nonpayroll operating expenses for goods and services could not be verified.
The amounts IRS reported as appropriations available for expenditure for operations could not be reconciled fully with Treasury's central accounting records showing these amounts, and in the past, hundreds of millions of dollars in gross differences had been identified.
Receipt of Goods and Services We found several problems in attempting to substantiate amounts IRS reported as having been spent for goods and services. IRS did not have support for when and if certain goods or services were received and, in other instances, did not have support for reported expense amounts. For example, IRS accepts Government Printing Office (GPO) bills as being accurate and records an expense in its financial records without first verifying that the printing goods and services being billed were actually delivered and accepted. Also, in instances where IRS could provide information showing proper receipt and acceptance of goods and services, expenses were often recorded in the wrong fiscal year. This problem occurs because (1) IRS offices that receive and accept goods and services do not always forward to IRS accounting offices evidence supporting these actions and (2) IRS accounting offices used inconsistent, and in some cases incorrect, policies and procedures for recording expenses.
Ensuring that goods and services have been received and properly accounted for are fundamental accounting steps and controls. Over the past 4 years, we have recommended that IRS
revise its procedures to incorporate the requirements that
transactions be properly accounted for. IRS believes the core issue for correcting its receipt and acceptance problems relate to properly accounting for transactions with other federal agencies. IRS' plans to address this issue by
completely and accurately documenting its current accounting systems and control procedures for procuring, receiving, accepting, and paying for goods and services through other federal agencies, such as GPO and the General Services Administration, and recording the related budgetary, expense, and cash disbursement transactions; identifying and evaluating the reliability of available documentary evidence and systems, which until this point have been developed and utilized primarily to meet operational rather than financial reporting objectives,
working with other federal agencies to explore ways to improve the timeliness, nature, and extent of documentation
supporting interagency payments that would allow IRS to properly account for these interagency transactions, and developing both short- and long-term improvements to its accounting systems and control procedures, including modifications to its automated systems to allow for direct interfaces between its operating systems and its general ledger accounting system.
IRS is now beginning to deal with this problem in a comprehensive way. To that end, IRS has engaged an accounting firm to assist it in carrying out this plan. We are closely monitoring IRS' and its contractor's progress because, only through an intense concerted effort, will the proposed solutions be implemented on time for the fiscal year 1996 audit.
Fund Balance Reconciliation Issues Also, we could not verify the accuracy of IRS' Fund Balance with Treasury accounts that are related to IRS' appropriation accounts for its operations. The Fund Balance accounts are used to record cash receipts and cash disbursements for these appropriations. These accounts are much like checking accounts with a bank, and their balances represent the amount of appropriations available to IRS for expenditure. Accordingly, like bank checking accounts, each month, these accounts must be reconciled with the bank's records, and any differences reported to the bank. In this case, the banker is Treasury and the differences are great. These accounts have been unreconciled in each of the years we have audited IRS' financial statements. The net reconciling differences are made up of gross differences in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, we reported last year that IRS was researching $13 million in net differences that consisted of $661 million of increases and $674 million of decreases.
We have recommended that IRS
promptly resolve differences between IRS and Treasury records of IRS' cash balances and adjust accounts accordingly, and promptly investigate and record suspense account items to appropriate appropriation accounts.
In fiscal year 1995, IRS hired a contractor to provide information on the differences between IRS and Treasury records through fiscal year 1995 and established a task force to resolve the differences the contractor identified. IRS found that documentation was no longer available to resolve prefiscal year 1993 differences, which resulted in $10 million of net positive cash reconciling differences being written off. IRS has not yet completed the research necessary to resolve fiscal year 1993, 1994, and 1995
differences. Further, additional research is required to resolve differences held in IRS' Suspense Accounts and Budget Clearing Accounts at Treasury.
To this end, IRS has developed plans to
complete its posting of adjustments to its appropriation accounts for fiscal year 1995 based on our review of these adjustments, and
engage a contractor to assist in completing its reconciliation of balances remaining in its Budget Clearing
Accounts and Suspense Accounts. IRS plans to complete the necessary adjustments to its records and Treasury's records prior to the closing of its books for fiscal year 1996.
In addition to completing this research, IRS must ensure that effective processes and procedures are in place to routinely reconcile its Fund Balance with Treasury accounts.
In this regard, IRS has created a unit to manage the reconciliation of these accounts on an ongoing basis. Overall, IRS' success in resolving the basic accounting and control issues involving its administrative operations will be indicative of its commitment and ability to resolve larger and more complex issues involving accounts receivable and revenue accounting.
Accounts Receivable could Not Be Verified
We could not verify the validity of either the $113 billion of accounts receivable or the $46 billion of collectible accounts receivables that IRS reported on its fiscal year 1995 financial statements. In our audit of IRS' fiscal year 1992 financial statements, after performing a detailed analysis of IRS' receivables as of June 30, 1991, we estimated that only $65 billion of about $105 billion in gross reported receivables that we reviewed was valid for financial reporting purposes and that only $19 billion of the valid receivables was collectible. At the time, IRS had reported that $66 billion of the $105 billion was collectible.
In our audit of IRS' fiscal year 1992 financial statements, we recommended that IRS take steps to ensure the accuracy of the balances reported in its financial statements by, in the longterm,
identifying which assessments currently recorded in the
designating new assessments that should be included in the
receivables balance as they are recorded. We recommended also that, until these capabilities are implemented, IRS should rely on statistical sampling to determine what portion of its assessments represent valid receivables. Subsequently, we helped IRS develop a statistical sampling method that, if properly applied, would allow it to reliably estimate and report valid and collectible accounts receivable on its financial statements. We evaluated and tested IRS' use of the method as part of our succeeding financial audits and found that IRS made errors in carrying out the statistical sampling procedures, which rendered the sampling results unreliable. For the fiscal year 1995 audit, for the first time, IRS tried, also without success, to specifically identify its accounts receivable. Further, IRS' accounting and reporting for accounts receivable is hampered by the limitations of its financial management system. IRS' system is not designed to specifically identify and separately track from detailed taxpayer records those owing taxes reportable as accounts receivable.
To mitigate this system's limitation in fiscal year 1995, IRS reported accounts receivable by using the uncollected assessment information from its computer system's master files, which were automatically sorted into either compliance assessments or financial receivables. In this way, IRS planned to identify the amount specifically related to financial receivables and report it as valid accounts receivable as of September 30, 1995. However, when we tested a sample of the automated sorting results, we found cases in which the financial management system's data were incorrect, and thus, did not properly segregate compliance assessments from financial receivables. We identified instances in which compliance assessments were classified as financial receivables, and thus, incorrectly included as accounts receivable; and other cases in which financial receivables were classified as compliance assessments, and thus, improperly excluded from accounts receivable. Based on the testing results, we concluded that the process IRS used in 1995 was unreliable for projecting the total inventory of outstanding assessments. Consequently, the accounts receivable reported on the fiscal year 1995 financial statements could not be relied on.
IRS' plans call for improving accounts receivable reporting in the short term by
analyzing, by September 30, 1996, its inventory of uncollected assessments to determine ways to resolve issues