Let the reformation begin.

By a resounding 96-2 vote, the Senate passed legislation to revamp the IRS and give Americans more rights when forced to take issue with the unpopular taxing body. That followed an overwhelming 402-8 approval two weeks earlier in the House. President Clinton will now sign the bill.Much more still needs to be done to overhaul the IRS, but to use NASA analogy - what just took place was quite a liftoff.

Finally, after months of debate, a bill was passed that shifts the burden of proof from the taxpayer to the IRS when disputes arise. It also makes it easier for someone winning a case against the IRS to have the costs reimbursed by the government and forbids the agency from forcing taxpayers to pay interest and some penalties if the IRS did not notify them of the problem within 18 months of filing their return.

As Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a member of the Finance Committee that held hearings on IRS abuses, noted, the overriding theme of the legislation is accountability. IRS employees have done their work in an environment with little or no oversight. No more. This bill significantly changes that equation.

A major switch involves an oversight board. A nine-member board that includes six private citizens will oversee the operations of the 102,000-employee agency. And staying with the accountability theme, workers could be fired for hiding mistakes.

Overhauling the IRS will be an ongoing process and should be given the time and resources needed to allow it to be done as quickly as possible.

Eventually it may be more productive to replace the IRS tax code than to spend many dollars and hours reforming it. After all, the complex code has more than 9,000 pages. Trying to understand it all is impossible for IRS agents, let alone the general public.

But abolishing the current system should only be done if there is something better to replace it. A proposal to dissolve the IRS by 2002 doesn't make sense unless a new program has been studied and is ready to be implemented. So far, that has not happened.

Until something is found that improves the overall tax structure, Congress and the administration are doing the right thing by making substantial and significant changes to the current code. More changes need to follow.