WASHINGTON — In today’s bitterly polarized environment, the Internal Revenue Service has become even more of a whipping boy for politicians as it struggles with deep budget cuts and accusations of incompetence and, some say, illegal actions.
That makes the tax-collection agency an ideal situation for John Koskinen.
A year ago, top White House aides Jeff Zients and Gene Sperling talked to Koskinen about a job in the Obama administration. He demurred, though he told them, if you’ve got something disastrous that no one else wants to manage, call me.
They did; he says it took him “about 15 seconds” to accept the job of IRS commissioner.
In an earlier life, he was a successful entrepreneur, specializing in turning around troubled companies. He was attracted to public service, and during the Clinton administration, he was put in charge of the so-called Y2K crisis, the preparations to avoid cataclysmic computer malfunctions as the clock turned to Jan. 1, 2000. The transition went seamlessly.
When George W. Bush took office, Koskinen stunned his colleagues by accepting a job as city administrator for the often-ridiculed District of Columbia government. There, too, he was a success. In 2008, he became chairman of Freddie Mac and paved the way for the restructuring of the troubled mortgage- finance giant.
You get the idea: Koskinen loves challenges. Many Republicans hate the IRS. Its budget has been cut for four consecutive years, while its responsibilities have increased. It has a major role in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is embroiled in a controversy over the tax-exempt status of political groups.
In less than three months on the IRS job, Koskinen already has bolstered morale at the agency as well as its standing on Capitol Hill. He’s more than halfway through a tour of the 25 largest IRS offices in the United States.