Despite the rain here in Washington, the dreaded April 17th Tax Day has been pretty uneventful. The line at the post office near us isn’t remarkably long and no one looks particularly panicked. Most people I’ve spoken to have used some form of tax software to prepare their returns. I was going to use one myself, but decided that doing it by hand might be educational. I simply printed the forms off the Internet and asked any questions I had online and on the phone. This morning, as the postal clerk affixed postage to my manila envelopes, I wanted to ask her why I couldn’t mail them for free? Then I started wondering, why can’t I just file them online without using a software program I would have to buy? What about a software program developed by the IRS?

According to the Public CIO Blog, Treasury Secretary John Snow had a few thoughts on this matter already:

“We aren’t tax preparation people. We’re not software development people,” Treasury Secretary John Snow told a House Appropriations subcommittee last week, according to the Associated Press. “There’s a private market out there that does that and does it well.” (Truman Lewis of reminded readers in his article that Snow chose to ignore “the fact that IRS runs a huge data processing operation” as it is.)

It was only after checking last week, I learned that popular H &R Block and Jackson Hewitt reguarly employed incompetent tax preparers. With regard to H & R Block’s own software (including the free software available to people with annual income levels less than $50,000 through the Free File program), while the federal tax return filing is free, the program will encourage you to also file your state taxes and will do it for free IF you agree to receive your refund through an H&R Block HSBC debit card. However, Consumerist points out that this debit card is full of hidden fees and even if you refuse the offer, they will issue your refund in debit card form anyway. At best, it’s just a pretty lucrative, albeit rotten, trick.

The government has two options: either create an online tax form (cap the income level if you must) or provide stricter regulation and oversight over how tax preparation companies do their bundling and tie-in promotions and recommendations.