Douglas Shulman, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, said he doesn’t intend to stay in the job after his five-year term expires in November.
“My plan is to leave at the end of my term,” he said during a question-and-answer session today at the National Press Club in Washington.
No IRS commissioner has served more than five years and one month since Guy Helvering, whose 10 years in the job ended in 1943. The president nominates the IRS commissioner, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Shulman, 44, made his first public comments on his plans after a speech in which he outlined the agency’s progress during his term on technology, taxpayer service and enforcement.
For a financial agency, Shulman said the IRS spends a “shockingly low” amount of money on long-term technology improvements.
The IRS, which collected more than $2 trillion last year, still uses magnetic tapes and older mainframe computers for some functions, he said.
“We have a very complicated, interrelated set of systems that, when you try to unbundle those, that makes the job even harder,” said Shulman, who described recent improvements in IRS technology as a breakthrough that is allowing faster processing of tax returns.
Before becoming commissioner in 2008, Shulman was vice chairman of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
He said he has tried to improve customer service and technology and change an organization that was “mired in the past” fewer than 20 years ago. “We’ve had a sustained arc of progress from that beginning in the 1990s,” he said.
Shulman also defended the agency’s efforts to regulate tax return preparers, who now face a requirement that they register with the government, pass competency tests and get continuing education. Some tax preparers and the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian organization, are suing to overturn the regulations.
“We went through an extensive process to land where we did and I’m very confident,” Shulman said in his first comments on the lawsuit, which was filed March 13. “Not only is everything we’re doing going to be seen as legal, but everything we’re doing is going to benefit the American people.”
Expiring Tax Cuts
Shulman also warned Congress against waiting until 2013 to decide the fate of miscellaneous tax cuts that expired at the end of 2011 and income and payroll tax cuts that expire at the end of this year.
“You could have a real disaster in the filing season where there’s total confusion,” he said.
Shulman spoke less than two weeks before the annual tax-filing deadline for individuals, which is April 17 this year because the usual April 15 date falls on a weekend and the next day is a holiday in Washington.
Through the week ending March 23, the IRS had received 84.1 million tax returns and issued $200.9 billion in refunds.