Werfel Departs OMB Following Stint as Acting IRS Chief

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Danny Werfel, the Obama administration’s controller who spent the past half year as acting chief of the troubled Internal Revenue Service, has left government service, the Office of Management and Budget confirmed on Monday.

Having spent more than 15 years at OMB, the last four as head of its Office of Financial Management, Werfel leaves amid from praise from former colleagues, while his next steps have yet to be determined.

“With John Koskinen’s confirmation as the IRS commissioner late last month, it was a good opportunity for me to take some brief time off to spend with my family and also to explore new opportunities for the next phase of my career,” Werfel told Government Executive. “My tenure with both OMB and the IRS left me energized for new challenges. Both organizations employ tremendously talented and dedicated public servants striving to make the government work better. I was honored to serve alongside them and am personally proud of the contributions I was able to make to improved management and results at both agencies.” 

One colleague, Shelley Metzenbaum, the former associate director for performance management at OMB who now directs the government reform nonprofit Volcker Alliance, said, “Danny always brought great energy, compassion, and a sense of humor to the task at hand. Combined with his deep experience in the federal work space, it was a great package.”

Robert Shea, a George W. Bush administration OMB official now a principal with Grant Thornton LLP, said, “Danny was relied on by successive administrations to fix government’s greatest challenges. The American people got a great deal with him, and I suspect his days of public service are not all behind him.”

Since joining OMB in the 1990s, the politically neutral Werfel testified multiple times on Capitol Hill as controller and as temporary IRS commissioner. In that final job, he had the tough task of replacing executives and cutting bonuses, travel and conferences while devoting much staff time to redacting documents to be handed over to congressional investigators.

In the highly politicized atmosphere of the controversy over IRS mishandling of tax-exempt status applications from largely conservative nonprofits, Werfel spoke frequently to Congress and private groups. But his earnest manner, tact and detailed answers often contrasted starkly with Congress members' calls for dramatic steps to shake up the IRS.

Werfel’s work at OMB left him concerned about recruiting the next generation of federal workers and a need to counter some “myths,” he told an academic group in October. One myth is that federal employees go home at 5 p.m. “That’s when the work is just getting started,” he said, recalling driving by agency buildings and seeing lights on at 9 p.m. The second myth has to do with competence, Werfel said, comparing the awe he felt on arrival with moving up from high school to college. “The level of talent is unbelievable,” he said. “By 10 a.m. on any day, most Americans are touched by some government program that improves American life, but [they] don’t think about it.”

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