By Jason Bramwell, Staff Writer
By a vote of fifty-nine to thirty-six, the Senate on December 20 confirmed John Koskinen as the next commissioner of the IRS, thus giving the embattled agency its first permanent chief since Douglas Shulman in 2012.
Koskinen’s term as commissioner will expire in November 2017.
President Obama, who tapped the retired Koskinen to head the IRS this past August, said in a written statement on Friday that the new IRS chief has decades of private- and public-sector experience, and has led institutions, such as Freddie Mac, out of crises.
“Throughout his career, John has always acted with the absolute integrity Americans demand from those in public service, and his strong leadership and unquestioned expertise make him the right person to lead the IRS,” the president stated.
During his tenure at Freddie Mac, from 2008 to 2011, Koskinen helped the mortgage finance company dig out of a financial crisis after it was seized by the government in September 2008.
“From turning around large private-sector organizations, like the Penn Central Railroad, to tackling obstacles facing the government, including the Y2K challenge, John’s distinguished career has prepared him to assume this important position at this critical time,” US Treasury Department Secretary Jack Lew said in a written statement on December 20. “The work of the IRS, which is carried out by dedicated public servants, touches virtually every American, and we need someone at the helm who brings both a strong commitment to high-quality customer service and the practical abilities to strengthen the agency. Not only is John that person, he is someone with a great deal of integrity who has earned bipartisan support over the decades for achieving results on behalf of Democratic and Republican presidents.”
During two days of confirmation hearings before the Senate Finance Committee last week, Koskinen assured members of the panel that he would restore the public’s trust in the IRS, which came under fire this year for its role in improperly scrutinizing the federal tax-exempt status of conservative groups like the Tea Party.
“Taxpayers need to be confident that they will be treated fairly, no matter what their background or their affiliations,” he said during a confirmation hearing on December 10. “Pubic trust is the IRS’s most important and valuable asset.”
The Tea Party scandal in May led to several high-ranking officials leaving the IRS, including Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner who was at the helm of the agency when it apologized for the way it handled conservative groups’ applications, and Lois Lerner, head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division. Daniel Werfel, controller of the US Office of Management and Budget, has led the IRS on an interim basis since late May.
“My commitment, if confirmed as commissioner, is that we will work to have no mistakes,” the seventy-four-year-old Koskinen said during the hearing. “The realistic goal is to find problems quickly, fix them promptly, make sure they stay fixed, and be transparent about the entire process.”
Koskinen will also lead an agency whose budget has been slashed by $1 billion since 2010, resulting in a reduction of nearly 8,000 employees, according to the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the federal union that represents IRS personnel.
“I don’t know any organization in my twenty years of experience in the private sector that has said, ‘I think I’ll take my revenue operation and starve it for funds to see how it does,’” Koskinen told the Senate Finance Committee on December 10. “The IRS will have 11,000 fewer people working during this upcoming filing season while processing the largest number of returns in its history. I don’t care how efficient you become, that is not a recipe for success or improved compliance and taxpayer service.”
The Senate Finance Committee approved Koskinen’s nomination to the post by voice vote on December 13.
Other tasks on Koskinen’s plate include leading the agency’s enforcement of the Affordable Care Act and providing input to the Senate Finance Committee on its continuing efforts to overhaul the tax code.
“John Koskinen has an excellent record of public service and leadership in demanding roles,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said in a written statement. “This is a critical time to have someone with Mr. Koskinen’s expertise in charge of the IRS. We need a confirmed commissioner to begin winning back the public’s trust and manage the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act. I am confident he is up to the task.”
Orrin Hatch (R-UT), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee who is leading a committee bipartisan investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, was one of five Republicans who voted for Koskinen’s confirmation. Hatch had hoped the confirmation would not take place until the investigation had concluded.
“Mr. Koskinen, I hope that today you will commit to continuing the cooperation the committee has enjoyed thus far in its investigation and that you’ll encourage others to do so,” Hatch told the then-nominee on December 10.
The other four Republican senators who backed Koskinen’s confirmation included Richard Burr (NC), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), and Rob Portman (OH).
During remarks on the Senate floor on December 19, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who voted against Koskinen’s confirmation on Friday, agreed with Hatch that the confirmation vote should not have been held during the investigation. He also voiced his displeasure with Senate Democrats for passing a rule change in November that strips the GOP of its ability to block President Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees.
“So, if John Koskinen does find himself confirmed tomorrow, I want him to know a few things. First of all, he should understand that I don’t hold any animus toward him personally,” McConnell said. “Under different circumstances, I might very well have been able to support him. We had a good conversation when we met recently to discuss his nomination. But he’s also someone I’ll be keeping a close watch on, as will the other members of my conference, as will the American people because big challenges lie ahead for the next IRS commissioner.”
Before taking the job of acting CEO of Freddie Mac in 2009, Koskinen, who has no tax administration experience, was president of the US Soccer Foundation from 2004 to 2008. Prior to that, he was the deputy mayor and chief administrator of the District of Columbia from 2000 to 2003, and the assistant to President Clinton and chair of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion from 1998 to 2000. Koskinen served as the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management from 1994 to 1997.
In the private sector, Koskinen spent twenty-one years at management consulting firm Palmieri Company, serving in a number of leadership positions, including CEO and chairman, president, and vice president.