Treasury Loses a Key Expert as it Grapples With New Tax Law

Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com

The tax professional community took note last week when a long-time Treasury Department executive who’d only recently been elevated by the Trump administration suddenly announced his retirement.

Dana Trier, 69, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, oversaw the Office of the Tax Legislative Counsel and was a key player in implementing the landmark tax bill enacted in December. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that he may have been a casualty of troubles in implementing the law.  

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Trier left just a week before the rule-writing team at Treasury—beefed up last summer with the elevation of Trier and David Kautter, now acting chief of the Internal Revenue Service—prepared to tackle complex new rules on deductions and the release of new paycheck withholding tables.  

But some parts of the law as drafted “were not well thought out,” Trier, a Treasury veteran from the 1980s and later a New York lawyer who consulted to congressional committees, was quoted as saying. Trier revealed that people looking at pieces of the new law sometimes asked him whether lawmakers could have reasonably meant to write it the way they did.

“We’re going to have trouble with about half the legislation if we apply that standard,” he said, according to the Journal. “Between these public comments and the constant friction with the bureaucratic elements of the government, I really just think . . . it was time to go,” Mr. Trier said. “I have enough of a big ego to think that they’ve lost something when they’ve lost me, but I think they can do it.”

Kautter, who retains his position as assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, accepted the resignation of Trier, who had spent years as a financial tax attorney at Davis, Polk and Wardwell LLP and teaching law before accepting a Trump administration appointment. Records showed that he had donated to Republican candidates, including Donald Trump.

Some of the worst fears about loopholes in the new law, he said in a talk to professionals, were overblown.

On Monday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, was asked by reporters about Trier’s resignation, and said he knew no specifics. “What I know is Treasury has been moving at full speed since before we sent the president the bill, the final bill and law, to begin implementing the regulations,” Brady said, promising a “technical corrections” supplement soon. “In the first rewrite of the entire code in 31 years, it’s routine to have some areas that industries or families want more clarification on.”

Trier’s departure is “a loss for the administration,” said Mark Mazur, the assistant secretary for tax policy from 2012-2017 and now with the Tax Policy Center. “Having a smart guy to work on regulatory issues you need to resolve is important.”

Paul Streckfus, editor of a tax newsletter, saw Trier’s departure as a sign that he was “apparently not willing to be a team player for the Trump Administration,” which may have irked Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “With people leaving and people feuding, chances of having a smooth transition to the new tax law appear to be slim to none,” he wrote.

That editor’s take was challenged on Wednesday by former Internal Revenue Commissioner Lawrence Gibbs, a friend of Trier’s who wrote that “under the best of circumstances, major tax reform is a difficult process, and drafting glitches as well as legislative language uncertainties are inevitable. However, the present political divide in our country and its impact on the federal government's inability to produce major legislation on a bipartisan basis seem to me to be the real culprit here,” wrote Gibbs, now a partner with Miller Chevalier.

“Not that long ago, input from both political parties and all interested stakeholders in our tax system through public hearings, with all involved taking the time to make good policy choices and hone legislative language, made major legislation better—not perfect but better.  Without such cooperation and input, the truth is that major legislation is not going to be better.”

Image via Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com.

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