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THE CASE FOR ELECTRONIC FILING, ILLUSTRATED

October 19, 2007

Classic story from Kausfiles, posted early Tuesday morning:

Postal: Angry scene at the LAX post office, where I went this evening to mail my tax returns--midnight being the deadline if you took advantage of the automatic 6 month extension. I arrived at about 10, figuring either it wouldn't be crowded, or else there would be friendly postal workers outside with bins as on April 15. Instead, the lobby was packed with hundreds of people standing in hours long lines for the relatively few postal workers inside--even if your letters were stamped and you didn't want to send it certified mail, you had to wait in line.

Extensions must be big on the coast.

They steered me to the back of the line, which was outside the building--they weren't letting anybody else inside, under orders from the Fire Department. I was tenth from the door--and that's where I still was at 11:30 when a manager in a track suit came out and said they weren't going to let us in at all. Argument ensued. People noted they'd been there two hours before the deadline. They pointed out they were there to pay the manager's salary. The manager said, "You had 365 days," which of course pissed everyone off more.

The bureaucratic arrogance was bad enough, but what probably really annoyed the last-minute filers was the bad math: October 15 was the end of a 288-day filing season.

As I walked away at 11:55 angry taxpayers were chanting "Hell no, we won't go." ... All in all, a) impressive incompetence and callousness of the sort that obliterates support and respect for government (at least government that isn't just cutting checks)

A disgraceful performance by the Postal Service, and one that makes their alternatives more attractive:

E-filing could have saved our hero the tedium of waiting in an unmoving line and the rage of dealing with brain-dead public servants.

Alternatively, authorized private delivery services could have helped a lot of taxpayers, especially those who were there to get proof of timely filing. I'm sure there are Kinkos open all night all over LA, where for a few bucks you could get your return filed through Federal Express, and with a clerk who probably won't even imply you are a loser for being there so late.
Sure, it's more expensive than the post office, but for the people who wasted several hours at the post office without getting their returns filed, it won't seem like such a bad deal.

One government agency can still redeem the LAX debacle, and should. The IRS should declare all returns mailed this week in the LA area as timely-filed, given the LAX post office fiasco.

Related: THE HOUR IS NIGH

UPDATE, 10/20: Is tax return delivery one of those "essential government functions," like tax collection, that some folks think should never be farmed out to the private sector? Because we can always count on civil servants to behave efficiently and professionally!

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