Tax Analysts Blog

The Republicans Might Be Right About Koskinen

Posted on Jul 29, 2015

On July 27, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz said President Obama should remove IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and he made it clear that if the president doesn't act, Congress could consider contempt charges and even impeachment. On the one hand, Chaffetz's threats seem like just the latest escalation in a long conflict between congressional Republicans, the IRS, and the White House. But the reality is that Koskinen has so lost the confidence of the lawmakers in charge of his budget and oversight that it might be time for yet another change of leadership at the agency.

The call for Koskinen's removal comes on the heels of a revelation that the IRS destroyed 422 backup tapes containing 24,000 e-mails from former IRS exempt organizations director Lois Lerner three weeks before Koskinen testified before Congress and promised to deliver all of Lerner's e-mails to investigators. Chaffetz claimed that the timing of the announcement was also affected by 1,000 pages of information delivered to him by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. This same information has led the Senate Finance Committee to review its bipartisan findings in a special closed-door session before the August congressional recess.

Koskinen probably didn't know about the destruction of the tapes before he testified to Congress. But the loss of the tapes is the latest in a pattern of questionable IRS practices throughout this entire process. It disturbingly mirrors IRS officials’ testimony before Congress after the 2010 elections, assuring lawmakers that conservative groups were not being targeted when in fact the IRS admitted in 2013 that they were. It was also not clear in 2010 who knew what and when, but it was fairly clear that the testimony given to lawmakers didn't accurately describe what was going on at the Service. Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was asked to resign by Obama after the scandal became known. Was Miller really more responsible for the initial targeting than Koskinen has been for the IRS’s handling of the crisis since December 2013?

Engaging with House Republicans can be tough. They are out to score political points and have been determined to derail the Obama administration since they retook the chamber in 2010. But it's the IRS commissioner's job to deal with lawmakers, and Koskinen was supposed to improve the agency's disjointed response to the EO scandal. Instead, he has doubled down on its stonewalling. He has been unresponsive, evasive, and even combative at hearings. House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan, hardly a conservative hothead, has flat-out accused the commissioner of lying. The commissioner's relationship with the majority party has steadily worsened since he took office.

And it's hurting tax administration and the Service overall. Everyone knows that Republicans have spearheaded successful efforts to slash the IRS budget over the last four years. And they aren't finished. Koskinen is not the person to sit in front of a Congress controlled by Republicans and ask for more funding. No matter the reason (Lerner e-mails, cuts to IRS service during the 2015 filing season, or his stubborn defense of Affordable Care Act implementation), lawmakers won’t be convinced by his arguments. Koskinen hasn't even won over many Democrats (beyond Elijah Cummings's tepid arguments that Republicans can't connect the scandal to the White House, few members of the minority party have leapt to the IRS's defense since 2013).

The IRS needs a leader who can restore its morale, fix the management mess that led to the EO scandal in the first place, and convince Congress that the agency needs and can be trusted with a bigger budget. Even if you think Koskinen can succeed at the first two (and that's far from clear), there is no way he can accomplish the last. And the IRS can't settle for two out of three right now. That's why Koskinen is no longer the right leader for the IRS. Obama should do the same thing to Koskinen that he did to Miller, and he should prioritize working with Republicans to make sure they support his pick for the next commissioner.

Read Comments (9)

edmund dantesJul 29, 2015

The IRS needs much more than a new leader. The corruption goes far beyond the mistreatment of the Tea Parties. The most recent evidence proves that the IRS used donor lists of conservative groups to target individual tax audits.

This is a breathtaking abuse of power--when Nixon tried it (unsuccessfully) the
attempt went into the articles for his impeachment, and rightly so.

There are only two kinds of employees at the IRS today: corrupt partisan hacks
who abuse their authority, and those that see this corruption and do nothing
about it. Whistles should have been blowing for years at the IRS, and they
have not been. This is an agency completely lacking in ethics.

Far more citizens have been actually harmed by this IRS malfeasance than were
harmed by Watergate. We sent many men to jail for Watergate, why has there
been no comparable effort here?

Of course Koskinen deserves to be impeached for his lying to Congress and
obstruction of legitimate investigations, but this will hardly solve the
deep-rooted problem of IRS corruption. That's why Republicans are right to
continue cut the funding for this rogue agency. They have to keep cutting
until the stonewalling stops and someone is held accountable for the crimes
that have been committed (such as Lerner's unauthorized transmittal of 1.5
million pages of taxpayer information to the Justice Department).

Why should taxpayers respect the law when it has become obvious to everyone
that the IRS does not?

tim lJul 29, 2015

Who more capable than Koskinen would take the job? Maybe ask the Repubs to
find one.

amt buffJul 29, 2015

Whistles should have been blowing for years at the IRS, and they
have not been.
This is the key. Cultural change is needed, perhaps including a generous
financial award for Whistleblower of the Week.

edmund dantesJul 29, 2015

They said I was paranoid when I suggested that the Department of Justice was involved, as well as top IRS officials. Evidently I wasn't paranoid enough.

bubba shawnJul 29, 2015

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is a decent honest man who was misinformed by
his subordinates preparing for Congressional testimony.

John Koskinen has been under personal attack since he started December 2013.
All of the Lois Lerner scandals and the Doctor Spock scandals happened under
Stephen Miller and Doug Shulman's tenors.

Politicians attack the IRS Commissioner only because they think it will help in
their reelection efforts.

I ask anybody if they could turn around a 90,000 employees organization full of
self-serving Bureaucrats?

Building trust with IRS employees requires that John Koskinen believes the IRS
employees side of the story - everytime.

Republican politicians should look in their mirrors to clearly see who is truly
guilty of lying to the American people! I say that as a Republican.

Fixing the IRS takes time - allot of time. That job also requires getting IRS
employees on board with the agenda. That is exactly what John Koskinen has
been trying to do since he started.

edmund dantesJul 30, 2015

bubba shawn: "John Koskinen is a decent honest man who was misinformed by his
subordinates preparing for Congressional testimony."

Not just once, but repeatedly. Have those subordinates been fired? Why not?

I agree with your observation about the futility of trying to reform the
IRS--that's why Republicans want to replace it with an entirely new agency.

bubba shawnJul 30, 2015

Edmund and AMT,

I appreciate your scepticism.

I have been the CFO of large organization working closely with the CEO and
senior staffs. I can tell you that changing the culture of large organizations
with a long history takes years not months. It also take a singular focus from
the very top of that organization that Commissioner Koskinen has been denied
because of selfish politicians who see a political advantage to keep him from
doing his job.

How would you guys like going home to your wife and kids who are also being
unfairly scrutinized in their relationship with the IRS Commissioner?

Everybody needs to place themselves in John Koskinen's shoes. If they did that
they would back off and let him do his job. That job is a tough job that
defies a successful outcome because the historic IRS culture is like a
reinforced concrete wall that will only come down with persistent and focused
effort.

Congress and the press piling up on on the very guy that can do that job is
counter productive.

amt buffJul 31, 2015

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is a decent honest man who was misinformed by
his subordinates preparing for Congressional testimony.

Has he fired all those subordinates? If not, he has not done all he can to
improve the situation. I can accept buck passing once, but "fool me twice,
shame on me".

CharlesAug 3, 2015

Add it to the list:
- Qualifying ITIN followers for tax credits that only citizens are eligible for.
- Shutting down the Taxpayer Service Centers' tax preparation assistance that
Congress fully funded and redirecting those funds to award grants to community
organizers

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