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Is the IRS Chief a Quitter?

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen this week continues his slog through a series of hostile congressional hearings centering on the tax agency’s recent confirmation that some long-sought scandal-related emails from former Exempt Organizations official Lois Lerner went missing.

During Friday’s Ways and Means Committee session, the IRS’ explanations drew scoffs from Republicans and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., looked Koskinen in the eye and said, “I don’t believe you.”

The commissioner, whom Democrats sought to rehabilitate as a witness by recapping his stellar career as a private- and public-sector turnaround manager, said this was the first time he’d ever encountered such a reaction.

But then Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., took things further. “You made a bad choice,” he told Koskinen. “You were brought in as a white knight, and the administration is trading on your reputation.” Saying he didn’t mean to be “condescending,” Roskam predicted that “within several months or a year, you will be gone,” and the troubled IRS will move on with someone else.

Moments later, after Roskam had left the hearing, the commissioner was given time to respond by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who thanked Koskinen for taking on a thankless job.

Koskinen replied, “Some people told me I ought to have my head examined.” Then he shot down the notion “that in six or 12 months I will somehow fade away. I will serve the three-and-a-half years remaining in my term come whatever will be,” he said. “The IRS staff must have confidence that I’m not going to cut and run.”

Earlier in the week, Koskinen received a vote of confidence from former IRS Commissioner Lawrence Gibbs, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1986. In an interview with the nonprofit publisher Tax Analysts, he called Koskinen “the right person at the right time for the job.” When he was commissioner, Gibbs added, he “did not have to deal with a partisan Congress. Certainly there were ideological differences… but in the final analysis when problems arose, they found ways to come together on a bipartisan basis and get things done.”

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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