Kaschit Pandya was promoted to deputy chief information officer of the IT department at the Internal Revenue Service just weeks before the pandemic put the entire country in a tailspin.
Pandya, who has lived in Frederick for the past eight years, was already tackling filing season and adjusting to working from home — along with more than 60,000 other employees — when the CARES Act provided a new challenge: stimulus checks.
“We knew that there were people who were impacted by the pandemic, people were starting to lose their jobs and people were struggling with making ends meet...” he said. “So we knew we had to act quickly to get these payments out.”
Pandya’s team, which consists of 7,300 employees, was largely responsible for getting the stimulus payments out to people’s bank accounts and mail boxes. The last time the IRS had sent out stimulus checks was in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. That year, the IRS didn’t send out stimulus checks until 73 days after President Barack Obama had signed the Economic Stimulus Act.
It took Pandya’s team 13 days after the CARES Act was signed on March 27, 2020, to send out over 170 million payments totaling more than $270 billion. Pandya’s team worked off of draft legislation before the act was signed so they could see what would be required of their systems in order to make the payments happen.
“I know two weeks perhaps doesn’t seem instant, but ... it wasn’t something we had anticipated or prepared for — no one saw it coming,” he said.
While work has been challenging, there’s been one perk: Pandya no longer has to commute to D.C. several times a week. He says Interstate 270 makes him miss the traffic in New York City, where he grew up.
But he’s found that the hours he would normally spend commuting are now taken up by meetings that start at 7:30 a.m. and go long into the evening. He knows other employees across all kinds of companies feel the same way.
The work from his team has been tireless.
“I get to put on my executive hat and talk in meetings and provide direction and guidance, but the unsung heroes are the ones who were behind the scenes, who were working 24 hours a day, they were working nights and weekends,” he said. “There was a time where our teams worked something like six or seven weeks straight.”
Another complication the pandemic provided was the extended filing season, which ended in July rather than April last year. The IRS begins preparing for the next filing season about a year out, meaning they were already preparing for 2021 during the 2020 season.
Instead of being able to focus on 2021, team members had to pivot and start focusing on not only the stimulus payments but also the new extended filing system.
“So you have this confluence of demand, on the same set of resources, all of them with the same level of urgency and priority and that balancing act... is where it gets really tricky,” Pandya said.
About 20 systems needed to be changed — mostly so people would not be penalized for filing after April 15, since every system was programmed to start accruing interest and penalties on that date.
Luckily, all the hard work paid off, and by the time the second stimulus payment was signed into law on Dec. 27, the IRS was able to start sending out payments two days later.
They didn’t really have a choice, though. The tax year ends on Dec. 31, so the team had to work straight through the holidays in order to ensure the payments would go out in time.
After that, systems for the 2021 filing season had to be changed to represent the two stimulus payments. It’s a never-ending string of compounding challenges. But those challenges have forced the IT team to adapt. Pandya refers to the concept of antifragility, coined by writer Nassim Taleb, to drive his work. Instead of building systems so they can withstand stress, the goal is to build systems that are actually improved when encountered by stress.
“So now our focus has shifted from, ‘Let’s do things how we always used to,’ to ‘Let’s do things a different way,’” he said. “Because we’ve demonstrated we can, and we have seen results delivered at a much more rapid pace than we were seeing in the past.”
For Pandya, it’s worth it to know that he’s doing something worthwhile and helping people. Although he knows he’s not responsible for the legislation, he is largely responsible for enacting the legislation and ensuring millions of Americans have money when they need it most.
It’s something he doesn’t feel he experienced at his former job in the private sector, where he worked for about 15 years.
“When he knows that there are people that are struggling and they’re depending on that check or they really need that check, that’s I think such a wonderful feeling for him,” said Purvi Pandya, Kaschit’s wife. “And I don’t know if he would necessarily get that in a corporate setting.”
Purvi said that while Kaschit has been busier than ever, she and their two sons would not know it. He often works downstairs at the dining room table while they work on virtual school, and he makes time to help them with their homework every night.
“I just don’t know how he does it. We don’t know if he’s stressed at all,” she said. “... We would see it as overwhelming but he takes it as a challenge, he almost thrives on it.”
Pandya doesn’t want to take all the credit, though. He has a team of 7,300 employees, after all.
“All of the credit ultimately, as far as I’m concerned, goes to them, rather than the executive,” he said. “We work just as hard in a different way, but if it weren’t for the teams that we have, this would have never been able to be accomplished and able to be completed and delivered as successfully as we did.”