Obama Nominee For IRS Chief Has History With Tough Tasks

Aug 2, 2013
Originally published on August 2, 2013 5:26 pm

The Internal Revenue Service, under attack by congressional Republicans, has been operating without a permanent commissioner. President Obama nominated John Koskinen on Thursday for what might be seen as a thankless job.

The president called his nominee "an expert at turning around institutions in need of reform." But Koskinen will have his work cut out for him, starting with his Senate confirmation hearing.

History With Struggling Agencies

Koskinen, 74, is a familiar figure in Washington policy circles. In his last government job, he was chairman of Freddie Mac, which buys home mortgages from lenders, and which was bankrupt when he took over in 2008. He helped lead Freddie Mac back into solvency.

Koskinen served as deputy mayor of Washington, D.C., and was chairman of the federal government's efforts to prepare for Y2K, the feared worldwide computer meltdown.

He earlier served as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. In 2011, as threats of a government shutdown loomed, he spoke with NPR about the 1995 shutdown.

"They discovered that people cared about parks and museums; they cared about getting [Federal Housing Administration] loans," he said. "And there was a lot of that in '95 that people really didn't understand or think about ... shutting down the passport services and other things they depended upon."

Now, Koskinen is being called on to rescue another agency many Americans are struggling to understand: the IRS. It's been under attack by Republicans in Congress, who say that it unfairly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Recent reports indicate the agency also targeted some progressive groups for scrutiny.

Questioning Ahead

The senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Utah's Orrin Hatch, complained on the Senate floor Thursday night that Obama didn't consult him about Koskinen's nomination.

"Now, I like the president. I think we're friends. But that was improper, and it was a slight that should not have happened," he said.

Beyond the slight, Hatch warned that Senate Republicans will question Koskinen about the IRS operations and procedures in his upcoming confirmation hearings.

"I will demand significant answers from Mr. Koskinen when he comes before the committee, and I think other Republicans will as well," he said. "My purpose will be twofold. First, we need to get to the truth about what happened at the IRS. And perhaps just as importantly, we need to make sure that the Obama administration is fully cooperating with our efforts, rather than using phony statements about phony scandals."

Where The Health Law Comes In

Hatch said Senate Republicans will also use the hearings to, as he put it, address many questions about the IRS' ability to implement the president's health care law.

The agency will be responsible for ensuring that most individuals have health insurance. The House on Friday approved a Republican measure preventing the IRS from carrying out any part of the new health law, a measure sure to be ignored by the Democratic-led Senate.

If the Senate confirms Koskinen, his term would last until November 2017.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Internal Revenue Service has been operating without a permanent commissioner. Now, President Obama is nominating John Koskinen for what some would say is a thankless job. The president calls his nominee an expert at turning around institutions in crisis. NPR's Brian Naylor says Koskinen will have his work cut out for him, starting with his Senate confirmation hearing.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: John Koskinen, who is 74, is a familiar figure in Washington policy circles. In his last government job, he was chairman of Freddie Mac, which buys home mortgages from lenders, and which was bankrupt when he took it over in 2008. He helped lead Freddie Mac back into solvency. Koskinen served as deputy mayor of Washington, D.C. and was chairman of the federal government's efforts to prepare for Y2K, the feared world wide computer meltdown. Here he is in a 1999 briefing, urging people to prepare.

JOHN KOSKINEN: One of the first things you got to do is make sure you have at least enough food and water to get through that three-day long winter weekend. Between now and the end of the year, you should keep all your financial records and transactions, your credit card receipts as well as your statements and for the first month or two next year, and take a look at them and compare them see if there are any glitches.

NAYLOR: Koskinen earlier served as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. In 2011, as threats of a government shutdown loomed, he spoke with NPR about the1995 shutdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

KOSKINEN: They discovered that, you know, people cared about parks and museums. They cared about getting FHA loans. And there was a lot of that, I think, in '95 that people didn't really understand or think about, you know, shutting down the passport services and other things they depended upon.

NAYLOR: Now, Koskinen is being called on to rescue another agency many Americans are struggling to understand, the IRS. It's been under attack by Republicans in Congress, who charge it unfairly targeted conservative groups applying for tax exempt status for special scrutiny. Recent reports indicate the agency also targeted progressive groups for scrutiny. The senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Utah's Orrin Hatch, complained on the Senate floor last night that President Obama didn't consult him about Koskinen's nomination.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: Now, I like the president. I think were friends. But that was improper. And it was a slight that should not have happened.

NAYLOR: Beyond the slight, Hatch warned Senate Republicans will question Koskinen about the IRS operations and procedures in his upcoming confirmation hearings.

HATCH: I will demand significant answers from Mr. Koskinen when he comes before the committee, and I think other Republicans will as well. My purpose will be two-fold. First, we need to get to the truth about what happened at the IRS. And perhaps just as importantly, we need to make sure that the Obama administration is fully cooperating with our efforts rather than using phony statements about phony scandals.

NAYLOR: Hatch said Senate Republicans will also use the hearings to, as he put it, address many questions about the IRS' ability to implement the President's health care law. The agency will be responsible for ensuring most individuals have health insurance. The House today approved a Republican measure preventing the IRS from carrying out any part of the new health law, a measure sure to be ignored by the Democratic-led Senate. If Koskinen is confirmed by the Senate, his term would last until November 2017. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.