The Department of the Treasury is the latest branch of the U.S. Government to make an appearance on the Internet. The popularity of the World Wide Web and easy access to browsers has resulted in what seems like a competition among departments to advertise their presence. Like many other government departments, Treasury comes with a large, bright graphic and some other interesting bells and whistles. The user is immediately presented with a color photograph of the Treasury Building at night, below which are hypertext buttons in the form of four gold coins, and below these, a photograph of Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. An interested user with a sound card can listen to Mr Bentsen speak about the Treasury Department's presence on the Internet. The four gold coins are labelled: Who's Who - Treasury Bureaus - Treasury Services - and What's New.
The "Who's Who" area is a glossy presentation with photographs and biographies of top Treasury officials. It is a large file--more than 100K--but there is an alternative text version available. More relevant to the average user are the remaining three areas.
"Treasury Bureaus" is a link to the homepages of the 12 Treasury Bureaus. Unfortunately, as of this writing, most of these pages contain only the bureau's mission statement along with a picture and biography of the bureau chief. Moreover, even these introductory pages have been constructed with differing degrees of attention. Mission statements vary from the verbose to the seemingly ironic (my favorite: the Bureau of Public Debt whose mission is "to borrow the money needed to operate the Federal Government and to account for the resulting public debt.").
Not surprisingly, the Treasury bureau homepage containing the greatest amount of information is that of the Internal Revenue Service. I have some natural hesitation at the very idea of bestowing superlatives on the IRS but it is clear that some forethought as to what constitutes usable public information has gone into the planning of this site. The homepage is linked to four file areas: Tax Forms and Instructions; Frequently Asked Questions; Where to File; and Where To Get Help With Your Taxes. The last three are text files that provide useful, but not crucial, information. The first file, Tax Forms and Instructions, is, on the other hand, an exceedingly helpful compendium. This file subdivides into three areas: a very long list of tax forms, a searchable index of tax forms, and finally, information on the Adobe Acrobat Reader, a freely available software package that allows a user to view and print tax forms from a World Wide Web browser such as Mosaic or Netscape. The Adobe Acrobat Reader comes in Mac, Windows, and Unix versions. I retrieved it via ftp and within fifteen minutes had downloaded, configured, and used the reader to print a tax form on my local printer. This is certainly an efficient use of technology although it must be admitted that using this service does require possession of some fairly sophisticated technology, i.e., direct Internet connection, Web browser, laser printer etc.. On the other hand, as an indication of where the future of tax forms, as well as electronic filing might be proceeding, this serves as an interesting experiment.
"Treasury Services" provides information regarding a number of Treasury Bulletin Board Systems including the IRS.BBS, the Customs BBS, and a link to the Treasury Electronic Library files on FedWorld. It also contains informational files on the Department of Commerce's Economic Bulletin Board, the Federal Reserve BBS, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve BBS and others. This whole area would be improved if there were more actual access links rather than blurbs on, for example, the Federal Reserve Bulletin Board; however, FedWorld is the only site that can, at the moment, be reached via telnet access.
"What's New" presents bulletins of Treasury Department activities. At the moment, information typically available includes such reports as the results of the latest auction of 13-week bills or the total October Savings Bonds sales. Unfortunately, when I last accessed this file on January 3rd, 1995, the files had not been updated since November 29th.
In conclusion, this is an interesting and well-constructed site. It does require somewhat sophisticated technologies to use, for example, people whose only Web access is through text-based browsers such as Lynx will not be able even to view the tax forms. Since taxes appear to be inevitable, any methods that aid the process are to be commended.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jan. 3, 1995