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Who Is Daniel Werfel, the New Head of the IRS?

President Barack Obama meets with Daniel Werfel, incoming Acting IRS Commissioner, in the Oval Office, May 17, 2013

Photograph by Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with Daniel Werfel, incoming Acting IRS Commissioner, in the Oval Office, May 17, 2013

Today’s the first day on the job for Daniel Werfel, the White House budget official tapped by President Obama to be acting commissioner of the IRS. Let’s hope he got a good night’s sleep.

Werfel, who is 42 and goes by Danny, has risen through the ranks largely as a civil servant, primarily in the White House Office of Management and Budget under both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. (He also spent two years as a lawyer in the Justice Department; he has a law degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a master’s in public policy from Duke University.) Apparently he can wonk out with the best of them: In March, the Wall Street Journal described him as a technocrat who “in one sentence, discussed the ‘heterogeneity in what agencies are doing,’ making ‘a strategic judgment call in terms of are we going to layer on top of that heterogeneity,’ and how all that fitted with ‘a data metrics framework that we anticipated.’”

And he’s no stranger to navigating massive—and controversial—government efforts. Most recently, he’s been the administration’s point person on the federal budget sequestration, directing agencies where to cut. His earlier assignments included helping to oversee the government’s massive stimulus spending program that passed in 2009, where his unglamorous tasks included wrangling data to build the spending website

The partisanship surrounding the sequester and stimulus may end up paling in comparison to what Werfel faces atop the IRS. The post, which once seemed sleepy, has been thrust into the spotlight as the agency faces multiple investigations over whether it unfairly targeted conservative groups for scrutiny. Werfel will need to unravel what happened before he arrived and deal with the larger question of how the agency will handle the onslaught of nonprofit political spending.


Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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