Managing complexity: encoding the tax code

I put together an interactive tool to explore the U.S. individual tax calculation.

Here is a screenshot of the most basic tax form. You can click through to https://b-k.github.io/1040.js and add components for kids, check the boxes to add components for a mortgage, student loans, rents and royalties, and so on.

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What inspired me to develop it this far is that I showed an early draft to friends and colleagues, and for the most part their reaction was complete indifference.

Taxes are not something you understand, I was told, they are something you do. Every year, you stuff numbers into a black box, and the black box spits out a single owed/refunded number, and that’s what taxes are. There is never any need to intuit how the tax system works.

But tax law is of central importance in governance—nobody jokes about the inevitability of death and parking enforcement. And title 26 of the US Code (herein, the tax code) is arguably the most complex part of the law. What does it take to be an informed citizen or policymaker in this context? Continue reading

gao titles re-written

Recent GAO report titles with my interpretation of what they could have called the reports.

HHS: Patient’s Health Information Remains Unprotected

HHS Has Issued Health Privacy and Security Regulations but Needs to Improve Guidance and Oversight, GAO-12-605, Jun 22, 2012

It Takes Less Time to Get A Security Clearance Now

Personnel Security Clearances: Continuing Leadership and Attention Can Enhance Momentum Gained from Reform Effort, GAO-12-815T, Jun 21, 2012