National Press Club

IRS head says agency strives to regain public confidence

April 2, 2014 | By Robert Webb |

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and 2014 NPC president Myron Belkind.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and 2014 NPC president Myron Belkind.

Photo/Image: Brent Gwathney

The nation's tax collection agency must regain the confidence of the American people, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said at a National Press Club luncheon on April 2.

He took office about three months ago, as the IRS was embroiled in a controversy over how it determined which social welfare organizations can attain tax exempt status. Conservative groups claimed the IRS was biased against them.

"One of the most important things we have to do is restore public trust in the agency," Koskinen said.

The IRS will treat people fairly no matter what political party they favor, "what organizations they belong to, or whom they voted for in the last election. None of that matters for us in the IRS," Koskinen said.

Koskinen noted that the IRS "touches virtually every American" and called for improvement to the the tax-paying process.

"The IRS Taxpayer Advocate has estimated that individuals and business spend about 6.1 billion hours a year complying with the filing requirements of the tax code, all in an effort to determine and pay the right amount of taxes," he said.

The country can do better than that, Koskinen asserted.

"And, while tax policy is the domain of the Treasury Department, the administration and the Congress, those of us involved in tax administration are anxious to do whatever we can to assist in the process," he said.

The IRS is up to the challenges it faces, Koskinen said. During his time in office, he has traveled to 18 of the 25 largest IRS offices around the country.

"I have talked with and listened to about 8,OOO employees so far and been delighted to see the professionalism, skills and dedication of our employees," Koskinen said.

In the last four years, IRS employees have had no raises and had to endure furloughs. Over the last year, they have been the target of "negative publicity" surrounding the controversy over tax-exempt status of non-profit groups, Koskinen said.

But there wasn't much internal grumbling.

"Instead, the consistent response I have heard is a concern that we do not have enough employees to provide the level of taxpayer services our employees want," Koskinen said.

Koskinen also encouraged Congress to pass comprehensive tax reform and cited a recent proposal by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.

"He said that the tax code is ten times the size of the Bible, without the good news," Koskinen said.