Scope of the Position:

The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) oversees the collection of approximately $3.1 trillion in tax revenue for the United States federal government every year. As of FY 2014, that consisted of nearly 240 million tax returns. The Commissioner works to ensure a balance between the responsibilities of providing taxpayer services and tax code enforcement, and he or she determines the overall direction of the Agency. The position works to promote equity and integrity throughout the collection process and serves for a five-year term. The Commissioner may be reappointed following the end of a term. 

Illustrative Management Challenges:

There are multiple management challenges that will warrant continued attention for the foreseeable future.

Alleged Political Bias in 501(c)4 Designation

There is continued effort from current Commissioner John Koskinen to address the ways in which the IRS has processed 501(c)4 applications.1 The Agency has been scrutinized by the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for its alleged use of political bias toward various organizations applying for 501(c)4 designation. Conservative groups complained of delays, burdensome requests, and intimidation from interactions with the Internal Revenue Service during the application process for tax-exempt status.2 It should be noted that no formal ruling has been made regarding the alleged political bias of the IRS. However, this issue is still something that the future IRS Commissioner will likely have to address in the next administration. Remaining focused on carrying out the Agency's mission while implementing best management practices in the midst of such a political issue will undoubtedly pose a significant challenge for the future Commissioner.

Information Security

The Government Accountability Office has developed numerous reports over the years detailing the various informational control updates that would improve IRS systems.3 According to a 2016 report, the "IRS has not effectively implemented elements of its information security program," exposing the Agency to vulnerabilities. Without addressing unresolved and newly identified control deficiencies and updating policies, test and evaluation procedures, and remedial action procedures, the IRS's financial and taxpayer data will remain vulnerable to attack, use, or disclosure. In another report, GAO found that "weaknesses remained with identifying and authenticating users, authorizing users' level of rights and privileges, encrypting sensitive data, auditing and monitoring network activity, and physically securing its computing resources."4 The report indicates that until the IRS effectively implements adequate security practices, taxpayers will "continue to be exposed to unnecessary risk." These internal changes also seek to improve the Agency's security and customer service and streamline compliance programs.5


      1The Show Trial of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen;; June 4, 2016.
      2Targeted Conservatives Detail IRS Delays, Requests and 'Intimidation';, June 4; 2013.
      3Information Security: IRS Needs to Further Improve Controls over Financial and Taxpayer Data;; March 28, 2016.
      4Information Security: IRS Needs to Further Enhance Controls over Taxpayer and Financial Data;; April 14, 2016.
      5Obama Would Hike IRS Budget by 9 Percent;; February 10, 2016. 

IRS Commissioners:

IRS Commissioners generally possess expertise in the financial realm, but in recent years there has been a trend toward overall highly competent individuals with top-notch management skills. Given that the IRS has been under a lot of scrutiny in recent years, being Commissioner requires the innate ability to manage crises and criticism, a quality present in the most recent Commissioners.

Current Incumbent:

John Koskinen (2013-Present): Before his appointment as Commissioner, Koskinen served as the CEO of Freddie Mac in 2009 and then as a non-executive chairman for the next three. He acted as the Assistant to the President and Chair of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion. He previously served as Deputy Director for Management in the Office of Management and Budget. He held positions with the Palmieri Group and at Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. Koskinen began his career clerking in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Previous Commissioners:

Daniel Werfel (Acting) (2013): Werfel currently works at the Boston Consulting Group as a member of the Public Sector practice. He previously served as Controller at OMB. Werfel has held other federal government positions, including Chief of the Financial Integrity and Analysis Branch, Budget Examiner in the Education Branch, and a policy analyst in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He also worked as a trial attorney for DOJ's Civil Rights Division. Werfel holds a JD and an MPP.

Steven T. Miller (Acting) (2012-2013): Prior to serving as Commissioner, Miller held other positions at the IRS, including Special Assistant to the Assistant Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement. Steven Miller began his career practicing law before moving over to act as a staffer for the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Douglas H. Shulman (2008-2012): Shulman currently is Senior Executive Vice President and Head of Client Service Delivery at BNY Mellon. After leaving the IRS, he worked at McKinsey & Co. and at Harvard's Kennedy School for Business and Government. Shulman held many positions in the financial realm before coming to the IRS, including at the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) (the predecessor of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and the Vice Chairman of FINRA.

Linda E. Stiff (Acting) (2007-2008): Since leaving the IRS, Stiff has worked in the private sector as the Managing Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Tax Controversy and Regulatory Services (TCRS). Before being appointed as the Acting Commissioner of the IRS, Stiff held other executive level positions during her more than 30 years with the organization.

Kevin M. Brown (Acting) (2007): Brown currently acts as the Principal and Co-Leader of PwC's tax controversy and regulatory services practice. He is also a member of the Massachusetts and D.C. Bar Associations. Prior to joining the IRS, Brown acted as the Chief Operating Officer of the American Red Cross.

Mark W. Everson (2003-2007): Everson currently is the Vice Chairman of alliantgroup. He previously served as the Deputy Director for Management for the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush Administration. Everson also was a member of the Reagan Administration, where he held multiple positions in the U.S. Information Agency and the Department of Justice.

Bob Wenzel (Acting) (2002-2003): Wenzel served as Acting Commissioner after rising through the ranks during his 38 years with the IRS. He began his career at the Agency in 1963 as a revenue officer in Chicago.

Charles O. Rossotti (1997-2002): Rossotti currently is an Operating Executive at The Carlyle Group, where he focuses on investments made in the areas of information technology and business services. He has served on many different boards of directors, including at Booz Allen Hamilton, Quorum Management Solutions, and Coalfire. Rossotti was a co-founder of American Management Systems and served in various executive capacities there.

Michael P. Dolan (Acting) (1993): After his time with the IRS, Dolan joined KPMG the Practice, Procedure & Administration Group's National Director of IRS Policies and Dispute Resolution. Dolan began his career by assisting people with settling their disputes with the IRS.

Shirley D. Peterson (1992-1993): Since her departure from the IRS, Peterson has worked for the Department of Justice as the Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division. She has also held positions on the board of directors for multiple organizations, including AK Steel Holding, Champion Enterprises, and Goodyear. Prior to joining the IRS, Peterson worked as a partner for Steptoe & Johnson.

Additional Resources: