IRS turning to XML to handle tax exemption forms

The IRS announced that Form 990 will now be available in the machine-readable XML format.

The IRS announced that Form 990 will now be available in the machine-readable XML format.

XML is not just an encoding format for technical documentation.  In a move that touches on XML's original purpose, United States Internal Revenue Service Form 990 – detailing tax-exempt organizations' financial information – is shedding its paper-based roots to go digital as its native format. The IRS announced that Form 990 Form will now be available in the machine-readable XML format.

"This will have an impact on the speed and efficiency of requests."

"The publicly available information on the Form 990 series is vital to those interested in the tax-exempt community," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen wrote in a statement regarding the transition, as quoted by AccountingWEB. "The IRS appreciates the feedback we've received from a variety of outside partners as we've worked together to explore improvements to make this data more easily accessible."

With more than 60 percent of Forms 990 filed electronically, according to FCW, the move to making data – with relevant redactions – available in a native machine-readable format is intuitive. Covered forms include electronically filed Form 990, Form 990-EZ and Form 990-PF from 2011 to the present.

"The IRS' move is a very good thing," Hudson Hollister, executive director of the pro-transparency Data Coalition, told FCW. "There is no reason why public information that the government already collects in a machine-readable format can't be published in that same format!"

Some industry experts, like The Sunlight Foundation's Alex Howard, emphasize that requesting and obtaining information still remains difficult for the public and that improvement in accessibility should be an ongoing focus, given the fact that public requests for non-profit or tax-exempt organizations' filing information is commonplace.  Nevertheless, the IRS's announcement will presumably have a tangible impact on the speed and efficiency of compliance with requests. It will also offer benefits to backend integration of IRS Form 990 data into XML-based content management systems, such as Astoria.

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