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IRS gets a warm welcome from Cherokee Nation

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - When a truck from the IRS backs up to a building during tax audit season, most organizations begin shaking in their boots, but not the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee Nation is the first American Indian tribe to become part of a cooperative effort that will allow the nation and the IRS to share equipment.

The nation received 200 computers and expects another 100 within the next month or so. They will allow tribal members to file their taxes electronically during the next tax season. And the computers can be used by the tribe for other purposes during the remainder of the year.

The cooperative effort began in Washington, D.C., with Leigh Ann McGee, an employee in the Cherokee Nation's capital office. McGee began discussing the project with the IRS about a month ago and, thanks to her hard work, the nation became the first tribe to work with the IRS under the equipment-sharing program.

"I'm the guy from the IRS that people like to see," said James Hellams who has been working with the nation in the computer-sharing program.

The computers are mostly Pentium IIs with CD read/write features and are most welcome. "I'm impressed by the computers the communities will be getting," said Todd Enlow, director of the Cherokee Nation's Information Systems said.

Not only is the Cherokee Nation getting new computers at no cost, but they will be updated. The IRS plans to replace all the equipment with even newer technology within the next two years.

"The idea is that during the tax season, volunteers can help people file their taxes electronically," Hellams said. "When they aren't needed for tax preparation, the communities can use the computers however they want.

"We'll keep the software up to date, too," Hellams said. "Part of our partnership with the Cherokee Nation is to help people in the communities with their taxes."

It is hoped that access to the new computers will help members of various Cherokee communities take advantage of tax breaks they may have missed in the past.

"There's not a lot of awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and we're going to increase awareness through a comprehensive education plan," said Ustee Grass, a nation employee who helped coordinate the equipment sharing effort. "And the computers will make it easier for people to get their taxes prepared and take advantage ... ."

There are a few strings attached. The computers cannot be used by the Cherokee Nation offices or given to individuals. They must be given to communities. They must be used for tax preparation only during the tax season.

However, a nation spokesman said he believed benefits far out weigh the strings attached to receiving the computers.

"There are other programs out there where the government donates computers," Mike Miller said. "But by the time they get them distributed, they are outdated. The IRS actually is able to cut through the red tape and get computers out that are less than two years old and they keep the software updated and train personnel to use them."