Biden risks ‘failure’ on beefing up IRS for one big reason, former chiefs say

Former Internal Revenue Service commissioners are urging President Joe Biden to nominate a replacement to lead the agency before the term of current chief Charles Rettig expires next month, warning that a void at the top risks harming the agency’s performance at a sensitive time.

The delay could hamper Biden’s controversial overhaul of the IRS, which promises sweeping technology improvements for taxpayers and new resources to target tax cheats as part of the president’s plan to increase tax revenue over the next 10 years. It also poses a reputational risk to the agency as it prepares to deploy billions of dollars in new federal funding.

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“Not very long in the future, anybody, realistically, is going to be asking what are the improvements that are visible that the IRS is making now that we’ve provided funds,” said Charles Rossotti, IRS commissioner under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“People think the IRS [is] like a machine that runs by itself,” Rossotti said. “It doesn’t. They’ll do the same thing tomorrow that they did today. But that’s not what’s expected when you provide a large increase in funding, and the funding was put there to improve performance.”

Republicans in Congress have already vowed to reverse the $80 billion budget infusion the IRS received from Democrats’ reconciliation bill this summer, questioning the agency’s promise to target “wealthy tax cheats” only.

Rossotti and former commissioners Fred Goldberg, Mark Everson, and John Koskinen issued a statement this week warning that “[u]ntil the position is filled, essential improvements to the IRS are at serious risk of delay, if not failure.” They were joined in the statement by Nina Olson, a former national taxpayer advocate for nearly two decades.

Rettig, appointed by former President Donald Trump, will finish his term on Nov. 12. His replacement will require Senate confirmation, one of two roles at the agency that Congress must approve. The second is the commissioner’s attorney post, which has been vacant since Biden was elected.

Lawrence Gibbs, a former IRS commissioner under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, said there is little hope of reforming the agency with no one at the helm.

“The organization, the IRS itself, responds to the guidance, the direction, the leadership of both the commissioner and the IRS chief counsel,” Gibbs told the Washington Examiner. “During the times you’ve had acting commissioners and acting chief counsels, the organization has just treaded water until a new commissioner and a new chief counsel could be appointed.”

He continued: “It takes a commissioner, and chief counsel that are appointed and confirmed to deal with the Congress, the rest of the administration, taxpayer organizations, media, all of the things that mold how the Internal Revenue Service is viewed, and that’s important in terms of people’s willingness to comply, and the ability of the organization to perform.”

Gibbs said this performance is crucial to the agency’s ability to help fund the government. “When we have a national debt that is in excess of our gross domestic product, ensuring that the revenue system works and works well, that’s got to be one of the priorities.”

The White House is preparing for turnover among some Cabinet and Cabinet-adjacent staff after the midterm elections, with two trusted advisers returning to scout out new appointees. But after Democrats’ yearslong push to increase the agency’s power and resources, the nomination delay has prompted questions about the administration’s focus.

Biden’s press secretary this week said she had nothing to share about a potential future nominee and disputed that the timeline would hurt the administration’s plans.

“It’s not going to slow down the overhaul of the agency,” Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We take this very seriously.”
The former commissioners told the Washington Examiner that they were not appeased by the response. While they support the increased spending, the Biden administration’s lack of action is worrying, they said.

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“We are less than a month away. And we’ve heard nothing from the administration,” Gibbs said. “No names are being rumored at the present time. There’s silence.”

“It’s already October, and nothing has happened,” said Rossotti. “We all agree [the IRS] needs to be transformed and brought into the 21st century. We all believe it is possible to do this. But not without somebody in charge.”

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