New Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen has a decades-long reputation as a Washington fixer, but he may be meeting his toughest challenge yet in restoring the agency's credibility.
"I think I need counseling," Koskinen told The New York Times
. "I'm a recidivist, going from one kind of crisis to another."
Koskinen was trained as a lawyer at Yale, but jokes he gave up his practice for Lent one year and didn't go back. Instead, he has become over the years a go-to man for when corporations find themselves in deep water and in need of new leadership.
He'd been retired for two years in May 2013 when the White House and Treasury Department started calling him to see if he'd come back to work one more time and help restore the IRS, which continues to be rocked by accusations it targeted conservative groups for scrutiny.
This may be Koskinen's toughest role yet. He filled a top role in the Office of Management and Budget during the 1990s shutdown and under President Bill Clinton as chairman of the President's Council on Y2K, helping to avert any catastrophes that could have come with data at the turn of the century.
In addition, President George W. Bush's administration brought him in to untangle Freddie Mac, where he initially served as nonexecutive chairman, and later as CEO, CFO, and chief operating officer.
But Koskinen's brash, often argumentative style has brought him criticism. He's been accused of being too slow to alert Congress that two years of former IRS official Lois Lerner's emails were missing, as she was under investigation for spurring the probes on conservative groups.
The malfunction with Lerner's computer came before Koskinen started at the IRS, but he had known about the lost emails for two months before he told Congress. In addition, some critics say Koskinen is being uncooperative with the House Oversight Committee's investigation, including telling Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, that if he has a "magical way" for him to provide the missing emails, he'd be happy to hear about it.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said that he is confident with Koskinen, though, as he was the administration's top choice for the job because of his experience.
"That was the set of skills very much needed at the IRS at the point when he was nominated," Lew told The Times. "It's almost the definition of a thankless job."
Koskinen has said in the past that once he's restored order to an organization, he's ready to move on. His career as a "fixer" has been lucrative, and the 73-year-old has a net worth between $7.1 million and $27.4 million, according to disclosure filings.
But he says he's cautious with his money, and still drives the same Toyota Celica to work that he's used for the past 16 years.
Koskinen has been working on the IRS' public image, including expressing a willingness to let people work out an agreement on their tax bills, and introducing a taxpayers' "bill of rights."
"This is probably one of the worst jobs in Washington," said Bruce McConnell, who worked with Koskinen at the OMB and the Y2K Council. "People really don't like the IRS."
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