How to become an IRS commissioner, according to someone who had a job

On November 12, 2022, the term of IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig will expire. And now, as King George pondered in the musical Hamilton, we’re collectively thinking, ‘What comes next?

There is no official successor in the pipeline yet who has been named to succeed Rettig. But here’s what the next candidate should know about this job.

What does the IRS Commissioner do?

Rettig’s successor has a big job ahead of him. The Commissioner presides over the country’s tax system, not to enact tax laws, but to establish and interpret tax administration policies, including enforcement and taxpayer services.

The IRS is also responsible for managing our critical workforce. By 2021, the agency had nearly 80,000 employees. This is down from 10 years ago, but new funding is expected to increase that number.

So how do you become an IRS Commissioner and what does it take to be a good one? I didn’t think anyone knew better than someone who had held the position before, so I asked a former IRS commissioner.

Photo Illustration: Jonathan Hartarte/Bloomberg Law

shortlist and judging

Lawrence Gibbs, current senior attorney at Miller & Chevalier and IRS commissioner from 1986 to 1989, said that when then-Treasury Secretary Jim Baker asked him to come to Washington, was on the commissioner’s candidate list.

Still, confirmation can be political. Despite a nomination from then-President Ronald Reagan, Republican senators would not vote to approve Gibbs unless he agreed to rescind the IRS revenue rule that made abortion costs deductible. Gibbs initially declined, but eventually agreed to reconsider. The senator lifted the hold and Gibbs was confirmed. He then wrote to Senators explaining that he was unable to reverse the revenue decision because of Roe v. Wade.

Charles O. Rossotti, who served from 1997 to 2002, was unaware of the candidate list. He got a call asking if he wanted to talk to then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin about his work, and the IRS, as it is now, was under a lot of criticism and attack from the press. Rubin contacted Rossotti, who was initially uninterested, as he wanted an executive for his agency-run business. Ultimately, Rossotti saw an opportunity to do something meaningful as a public service, so he said yes.

John Koskinen, who served as Commissioner from 2013 to 2017, held similar views. He said he wasn’t sure if there was a short list by the time Jack Liu, then Treasury Secretary, contacted him. I was receiving He was called, accepted on the spot, and two days later the review process began.

On television, the vetting process appears to be very simple: answering questions in front of parliament. But Rossotti says it can be complicated and expensive. A large amount of information, including financial assets, must be revealed. If you’ve been in business for a while, as he was, it can be tough to parse.

Koskinen agreed the review process could be complicated, mainly because it requires a detailed review of tax returns. Regardless, it took us two months to complete all the background reviews.

assets and achievements

Nothing could prepare him for stepping into the commissioner role, but Rossotti says his experience running a business has helped him a lot. It’s a lot of responsibility, he said.

Koskinen believed there was value in listening. He said that if he wanted to know what was going on within an organization, he could talk to the people doing the work. He held town hall meetings with his IRS frontline employees and listened to what they thought the IRS needed to do. He said it was the first time for most people to meet and talk to a commissioner in person, which helped with morale.

Gibbs emphasized that acting in a bipartisan manner is imperative for IRS commissioners. He also found it essential to manage expectations. , chose to adopt a limited goal program. Sticking to these goals and handling the daily demands was the hardest part of the job. But achieving those goals tops the list of things Gibbs is most proud of in his tenure as Commissioner.

Rossotti also cited restoring public trust in government agencies as one of his greatest achievements with the IRS. He said it was missing one key thing, funding, but helped guide the agency to a reasonable degree.

Koskinen credits one of his most important achievements with supporting the morale of IRS employees under constant attack. He also cited a key success in reducing the number of taxpayers who are victims of identity theft and refund fraud through a public-private partnership called the “Security Summit.” He said the number is now down by 81%, according to the IRS’ strategic plan.

Advice for incoming commissioners

Clearly, there is no “how to become an IRS commissioner” playbook. So how would the former commissioner advise his successor, who has not yet been named?

Koskinen will encourage the new commissioners to take advantage of the available resources – their employees. He said the IRS has a great workforce and the next leader should take the time to listen to employees. Instead, encourage them to meet regularly with senior management to discuss ways to deal with inevitable challenges and difficult issues.

Rossotti reiterated the importance of building teams and setting priorities. He also said it’s important to communicate honestly with the public about what you’re going to do. He said he would.

With additional funding on the horizon, Mr. Gibbs said the new commissioner would like to see how the funds will be used to better deal with the public, other IRS stakeholders, and non-compliant taxpayers. You said you should consider if it’s best to allocate and use.

That funding is essential.

Rossotti pointed out that the current administration is betting huge sums of money to get additional funding to improve the IRS. It’s a great opportunity to improve the agency, but it could set you back big if the administration doesn’t get the nominations right. Without a leader, he said, it wouldn’t work.

With all these challenges, why bother chewing?

This is not an entry-level position and those who step up to this job have already established successful careers and reputations. Why give it up for a high-profile job that you get criticized for? Words like “service,” “restoring trust,” and “public good” flew into conversations about why this work was ultimately worth it. After all, the IRS directly affects more people in the country than any other organization, making it an opportunity to do important things, Rossotti notes.

This is a regular column for Taxgirl Kelly Phillips Erb. Erb provides the latest tax news, tax laws, and commentary on the tax system. Look for Erb’s column in the Bloomberg Tax Office each week and follow her on Twitter. @Tax Girl.

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