The government agency that collects our money is pretty broke. That's a problem.

"Several of our systems are not currently operating," begins an alarming statement from the IRS posted Feb. 3, 2016.

A hardware malfunction, which affected several computer systems at the Internal Revenue Service, apparently caused the tax agency to stop being able to accept electronically filed tax returns while "a number of taxpayer and tax practitioner tools" also became unavailable.



The IRS building. Where charitable donations can finally start doing you some good. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The IRS hardware meltdown doesn't exactly come at a good time, either. Mailboxes around the country are currently filling up with W2s, and Americans are making their plans to (postpone/ignore/avoid/procrastinate and then finally break down and begrudgingly) file their taxes.

The IRS is still investigating the exact scope and scale of the outage, saying in part:

"At this time, the IRS does not anticipate major refund disruptions; we continue to expect that 9 out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refunds within 21 days."

Side note: If you haven't gotten your official green tax-filing visor yet, be sure to pick one up. Photo via iStock.

Two of the services most affected by outages were the IRS's e-filing system, which lets you file your taxes electronically, and a program called Where's My Refund, which is a passive-aggressively named program that tracks your filed tax refund.

Both of these programs are modernized versions of the IRS's surprisingly outdated computer systems.

The IRS's tech capabilities are actually pretty alarming. Some of it (at least, as recently as 2007) is still being run on antiquated magnetic tape systems originating in the 1960s that are about as "cutting edge" as lead paint. I wouldn't be surprised if the inside of the IRS building still largely looks like it did when they filmed this introductory video in 1966:


"I have no idea what these buttons do." Video from U.S. National Archives/YouTube.

But unfortunately, reliance on old systems as well as the failure of new ones are only symptoms of a larger problem.

The IRS has been steadily defunded over the last several years; down about $2 billion from 2010 to 2014. That'd be a huge problem for any government agency, but for the IRS, it's particularly devastating.

"Vital federal services [have] suffered as funding has declined," reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The IRS faces cost pressures common to most programs, such as a growing workload and the effects of inflation. But it also faces unique demands, such as the growing problem of identity theft and the tax compliance issues associated with offshore accounts."

Darrell Issa gives the international sign for "budget cuts" during a hearing about the IRS targeting scandal. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The economy has been rapidly changing while operations at the IRS have struggled even to remain stagnant.

That problem could get worse, too. Much of the GOP wants to continue slashing the IRS's budget and presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants to abolish the IRS altogether.

The IRS is also dramatically understaffed. In 2014 (the year the IRS had to brace for Obamacare-related tax credits and code changes), nearly half of all customer calls were answered, and long lines were commonplace at filing centers across the country.

The staffing problem is even worse when you consider that the average age of an IRS contracting officer is 46, meaning that the vast majority of the IRS can soon retire.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is well aware of the age problem in his agency. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

John Koskinen, Commissioner at the Internal Revenue Service addressed this problem in a statement in March, saying in part:

"I have advised our senior leadership that this is the last year that we will deal with budget constraints by freezing or severely limiting new hires into the agency. We have interesting and exciting career opportunities to offer to young people beginning their careers, and we need to encourage more of them to join the agency."

Selling a bureaucratic government agency to young people as an exciting career opportunity might be tough, though. The IRS has such a poor reputation that convincing anyone to work there is a challenge. Another government organization, the FBI, can't even get young people to stop smoking weed long enough to pass the necessary drug test to work for them, and they have those cool windbreakers. The IRS can't even offer that.

Not to mention the fact that no one under 45 knows how to use this thing:

Is it ... does it ... does it play music?

Long story short: Don't put off filing your taxes for too long this year.

The IRS needs a lot more help, but it won't be coming to save the day before your taxes are due this season. The IRS is busy getting their e-files back up to speed and still needs time to run your hastily scribbled information through a monolithic bookshelf while workers push a series of flashing buttons and (just guessing here) probably turn two keys at the exact same time to reveal a large red lever which, when pulled, spits your tax return out of a dot matrix printer while a siren wails in the background. Or something like that.

It's basically a Soviet-era Bond film in there. So get your taxes done now, before it's too late.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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