Kafka lives in Washington

Time again to pay tribute to the Feds to fund illegal wars, insider fat-cats, and tax cuts for the coupon-cutting rich. See the postscript.

I need to send out a few 1099s. So I go to the IRS web site and request information on Form 1099. Hundreds of entries pop up. I choose 2003 Instruction Form 1099 ALL and wade through 92 pages. Nope, no blank forms there. I go to the Form Finder. Advanced Search. WTF? I can choose by the date material was posted to the site; I wonder if anyone has ever used that feature.

I choose to search for documents containing the word "1099-MISC." The result? "1444 results found, top 500 sorted by relevance." Oh joy. Then I notice that the first of the 1444 results is titled, "2003 Form 1099MISC." Cool. Then I read the description: "Attention: This form is provided for informational purposes and should not be reproduced on personal computer printers by individual taxpayers for filing."

Ah ha! I'm getting wise to their game. I return to the search page and enter "2003 Form 1099MISC." Damn. Again I get the form I'm not allowed to use. I open it anyway. Now I see the problem. "Caution: Because the IRS processes paper forms by machine (optical character recognition equipment), you cannot file with the IRS Forms 1096, 1098, 1099, or 5498 that you print from the IRS Web Site."

Oh. Now I see. I'm supposed to go down to the library to pick up a supply of Forms 1099. And then fill them our by hand so that a machine will be able to read them.

This whole procedure, only the first thirty minutes of what will end up being days of bureaucracy and blind alleys, is bizarre. My $99 scanner has no problems reading output from my printer. How is the IRS not able to do the same? For that matter, why doesn't the IRS simply use the same scanners they use to process 1040s and all the other forms you are allowed to print for yourself?

Beyond that, hasn't anyone at the IRS considered the 80/20 rule? Why do the instruction books have to cover every eventuallity? Shouldn't they have one path for the majority of users and another for people with arcane or oddball situations? Why are the instructions locked in Adobe Acrobat rather than in HTML, which would let you click through to what you want to look at?

In a couple of months, we'll be reading stories in the papers about how one in four answers the IRS gives to call-in questions are dead wrong. (But you'll be penalized if you follow their bad advice because they assume no responsibility for the accuracy of what they tell you.)

I bitch and moan about gaffes in eLearning. The IRS is in a different league. Super-SNAFU.

As a taxpayer, permit me to offer a one-word suggestion:

USABILITY

Well, that was a fun rant, but now I have to take it back. (And no, that's not a revenooer behind me holding a gun to my head.)

Having found no paper 1099 forms at the local library, I went back to irs.gov and took a different path. They have an 80/20 path just like I was asking for. I'll report back if it gets me to any forms.


Most post offices have tax forms. Not the main Berkeley Post Office, I found out. So I drove to Oakland, parked at City Center, and walked into the Ronald Dellums Federal Building. The IRS has a rack with tax forms just inside the door; it did not contain 1099s. Okay, I thought, I know their regional office is right inside. Oh silly me, I forgot that we're on alert. I was eighth in line to go through the metal detector. Five minutes later I showed my picture-ID and demonstrated that my cell phone could display 1-2-3. I walked through the metal detector without incident. My satchel passed through the xray machine.

The guard came to the other side of the conveyor belt and asked me if I were carrying knives or scissors. No, I said. I unzipped the bag. He said he was not allowed to reach inside. Could I dump everything out into a plastic box? Did I not have a knife in the side pocket of my bag?


Do you mean this? I asked.

Federal marshal: "We can't let you in here with that."
Me: "Can you hold it for me until I come back?"
Federal marshal: "No, you'll have to take it back to your car."
Me: "But my car is not close by."
Federal marshal: "You have no choice."

I turn to leave.
Federal marshal: "You can't go out that way. You have to use the exit."

In the lobby, I approach a couple of guys handing out literature for the University of Phoenix.
Me: "Would you guys mind holding my weapon while I pick up some tax forms?"
Phoenix: "No problem. A few minutes ago we helped a guy who tried to sneak in with a life-threatening nail-file. "

I re-entered through security and walked into the IRS office. Three large double-sided cases of forms. I find the slot marked 1099-MISC. It is empty. A note says to pick up Form 1099 at the front desk. I wait in line. I approach the desk. The clerk looks off in the direction of my left shoulder. She is blind. I telll her I need four 1099s. She knows right where they are. Whew!

I'm glad that escapade is behind me.


Posted by Jay Cross at January 11, 2004 12:05 PM | TrackBack
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