IRS Chief Says Agency’s High-Profile Mistakes Are Behind It

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Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen speaks to the media during a visit to the Miami office at the Claude Pepper Federal Building on July 31, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The IRS has fixed its errors, such as improper extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups, and they won’t happen again, the tax agency’s commissioner said Tuesday.

“The changes are so significant throughout the agency that you could hang a sign out at the front of the headquarters saying ‘Under New Management,’” Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

The IRS has imposed limits to prevent problems such as overspending on conferences and videos, and inappropriate scrutiny of politically oriented nonprofit groups, he said.

“The problems do come from a prior era. We have addressed them so we think they won’t happen again,” he said. “It really is a new day at the IRS. It’s not the IRS of 2010, 2011 or even 2012.”

To bolster his point, Koskinen said 46 percent of the agency’s executives -- including two-thirds of the senior leadership team -- have left since October 2011. While the IRS is a large agency and will always have some problems, the key is to find and address them quickly, he said.

Congress has been investigating the IRS and restricting its budget since May 2013, when the agency revealed it had given extra scrutiny to the applications of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. Other issues -- including lavish conferences, an embarrassing Star Trek-themed video and bonuses paid to tax-delinquent employees -- emerged after that.

Bigger Workload

Koskinen, 75, became commissioner in December 2013. He is trying to persuade Congress to increase the IRS’s budget after a 3 percent cut this year. At the same time, the agency’s workload has expanded, partly because of its responsibility to implement parts of Obamacare.

With the budget cuts, the commissioner has warned of declining service to taxpayers and said it’s “abysmal” that the IRS can answer just four in 10 phone calls from the public. He said the government will lose about $2 billion this year because of reduced enforcement.

Republican lawmakers have told Koskinen that he won’t get what he’s requesting. They say they haven’t seen the kind of cultural shift at the IRS that he has claimed credit for.

Republican Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois told reporters earlier this month that institutions like the IRS don’t change without outside pressure.

“We’re going to try to influence this for the good,” said Roskam, chairman of a House oversight subcommittee. “I think we’ve got a long way to go in terms of confidence-building.”

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