Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 25, 2013

Koskinen officially in as new IRS leader

’57 Ashland grad looks to restore public trust

Mark Maynard
The Independent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — John Koskinen, a 1957 Ashland High School graduate with a reputation as a fixer in both the private and public sector, is officially the new leader of the Internal Revenue Service.

The Senate confirmed President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the IRS on a 59-36 vote last week, giving the troubled agency its first permanent leader in more than a year. Koskinen was sworn in on Monday.

Koskinen’s confirmation hearing two weeks ago went fairly smooth, so the result from the Senate was not unexpected. But now comes the tough part of restoring the public trust in an agency with multiple issues.

“I have a yellow legal pad. In one column are my friends and in the other are the people who think this is a good idea,” he said jokingly after his Senate Finance hearing last week.

Obama tapped Koskinen for the IRS job following revelations that agents had targeted tea party and other conservative groups for extra, sometimes burdensome scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections. The Justice Department and three congressional committees have launched investigations.

The investigations, which are ongoing, have shown that IRS workers in a Cincinnati office started singling out conservative political groups in the spring of 2010, and continued to do so until 2012. IRS supervisors in Washington oversaw the targeting, but there has been no evidence released so far that anyone outside the IRS knew about the targeting or directed it.

At his confirmation hearing, Koskinen said he will work to restore public trust in the agency.

“People need to have a view that the IRS is a nonpolitical, nonpartisan agency and that they will all be treated fairly no matter what their affiliation or political view,” Koskinen said.

Koskinen’s nomination had bipartisan support, but some Republicans wanted his confirmation delayed until the investigations were completed. Democrats said the position was too important to go unfilled, especially as the IRS takes on the health law.

Koskinen, 74, has a history of supporting Democratic candidates, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. However, several Senate Finance Republicans who vetted Koskinen were impressed.

“I am encouraged by Mr. Koskinen’s commitment to continue the cooperation the Finance Committee has enjoyed so far in its investigation, as well as his commitment to working with Congress to fix the IRS’s many problems,” Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said in a statement to the congressional record.

Koskinen has extensive experience in the public and private sectors. He came in to overhaul mortgage buyer Freddie Mac after its near-collapse in the financial crisis at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration. He also oversaw preparations for potential computer problems associated with the Year 2000 under President Bill Clinton.

With about 90,000 employees, the IRS processes more than 140 million individual income tax returns each year.

The IRS, which is part of the Treasury Department, will be in charge of enforcing the mandate that most individuals have health insurance, and collecting fines from people who don’t. The IRS will also distribute subsidies to help people buy insurance in new state-based marketplaces known as exchanges.

Koskinen’s toughest job will be putting a friendly face back on the IRS as he joins the agency about a month before tax season begins.

Koskinen isn’t an Ashland native but he did graduate from AHS and comes back regularly for reunions. He is also a cornerstone donor for the Putnam Stadium Resotration Foundation. He played football for the Tomcats from 1954 to 1956.

Greg Jackson, the chairman of Putnam Stadium’s renovation committee, was happy for Koskinen.

“We have a long relationship with him as one of our major supporters,” Jackson said. “For him to be confirmed to such a prestigious position in the country speaks well for our project. We all wish him well.”

The shrinking IRS budget will also be a challenge for Koskinen. Congress has cut nearly $1 billion from the IRS budget since 2010, forcing employees to double-up on jobs and leave posts unfilled.

The Government Accountability Office on Wednesday released a report saying the IRS “was unable to keep up with demand for telephone and correspondence services” during the 2013 filing season because of a budget crunch.

Koskinen said during his confirmation hearing earlier this month that the agency’s tax collections could falter if Congress continued to reduce the budget.

He enjoyed strong support from Democrats in the vote.

“John Koskinen has an excellent record of public service and leadership in demanding roles,” Senate Finance Charman Max Baucus said.  “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.”

In a written statement, Obama said: “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. I want to thank Daniel Werfel for his outstanding service as principal deputy commissioner of the IRS, and I look forward to working with John as he takes on this new role.”

Koskinen has as five-year contact as the IRS commissioner that will take him past Obama’s time in office.