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Senate panel vets noncontroversial IRS nominee

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By USA Today
Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 8:06 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — President Obama's choice to lead the Internal Revenue Service told a Senate panel on Tuesday that his mission is to make the IRS “the most effective, admired and well-run agency in government.”

John Koskinen, before the Senate Finance Committee for his confirmation hearing, acknowledged the challenges: accusations of political targeting of tax-exempt organizations, the implementation of new subsidies and penalties under the Affordable Care Act, and $1 billion in budget cuts.

His nomination appears to be noncontroversial. Koskinen has key support from Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who called him a “turnaround artist,” and ranking Republican Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who lauded his credentials in the public and private sector. And a change in Senate rules last month means his nomination can't be filibustered.

The IRS has been without a permanent commissioner for more than a year, and Koskinen's nomination has been pending for 132 days, Baucus said.

“He's the right person to take on this challenge, and with the filing season approaching, the IRS needs a confirmed leader in place,” Baucus said.

Hatch said he had hoped Koskinen's nomination could wait until after the conclusion of congressional investigations into the targeting of political groups seeking tax-exempt status. Evidence released from those probes show that groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement — and also a smaller number of liberal groups — had their applications held up for more than two years and were subjected to extraordinary scrutiny.

Daniel Werfel has been acting IRS commissioner since May 15, the week after the IRS admitted it singled out organizations with the words “Tea Party” and “patriots” in their names.

Koskinen, 74, has a long résumé of leading government agencies through a wide array of management crises. He was chairman of Freddie Mac when the Obama administration took it over after the housing crisis, deputy mayor for the District of Columbia as it climbed out of financial mess, in charge of President Clinton's Y2K conversion efforts and worked at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton-era government shutdowns. He even served as a junior staffer on President Lyndon Johnson's commission to investigate the 1967 race riots.

Koskinen promised to listen to front-line IRS employees, work with Congress and improve taxpayer services.

“Taxpayers need to be confident that they will be treated fairly, no matter the background or affiliations,” Koskinen said.

Tuesday's confirmation hearing was cut short by Senate votes on other nominees, and Republicans invoked a procedural rule to block the hearing from continuing into the afternoon. The hearing will reconvene Wednesday morning.

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