IRS chief welcomes a continuing resolution from Congress

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen says a CR is a better alternative to the proposed budget cuts to the agency. The IRS could lose as much as $...

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen may be the one federal leader who prefers that Congress pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open past the end of this month, rather than a full-blown budget for fiscal 2016.

The thought of a continuing resolution elicits groans from most federal leaders because it negates months of planning and negotiating with lawmakers over their priorities and possible increases in spending. A CR requires that agencies maintain the status quo. Koskinen says that’s not so bad for the IRS, considering the alternatives.

The House has proposed cutting the IRS’ budget by $838 million. The Senate would deal a slightly softer blow of $470 million.

“Either of those numbers would be as close to a catastrophe after five years of budget cuts for this agency as you can imagine,” Koskinen said during a speech to federal employees and contractors at a training conference Thursday in Washington. “Rolling it all into a continuing resolution and then an omnibus at the end of the year gives us more opportunity to get out from under what otherwise looks like draconian budget cuts.”

The agency’s budget has shrunk by 15 percent over the past five years through a combination of governmentwide budget cuts and bills enacted to punish the IRS for its treatment of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status in 2009 and 2010. As a result, the IRS has carefully juggled its funds to avoid staff furloughs. Perhaps more disturbing in the long term, it has not been able to replace employees who leave except in emergency situations. Just 3 percent of the agency’s workforce is under 30 years old.

Koskinen said he personally met with 100 members of Congress to drum up support for the IRS. His efforts have borne little fruit, however. Republicans are still mad. In appropriations hearings earlier this year, they described the IRS’ request of $12.9 billion for fiscal 2016—an 18-percent increase—as “massive” and “astronomical.”

Those who watch Capitol Hill closely say Congress is most likely to pass a continuing resolution in the little time it has before the beginning of the new fiscal year. Congressional leaders repeatedly have said they do not want a government shutdown. More conservative Republicans, however, have vowed to do whatever it takes to strip Planned Parenthood of federal support.

Koskinen said he was concerned about a shutdown. But he holds out hope that if given more time, the IRS can convince Congress to have a change of heart. If nothing else, the agency needs more money for cybersecurity and identity-theft prevention, he said. Hackers who broke into the agency’s “Get Transcript” system stole information on at least 334,000 taxpayers, the IRS disclosed earlier this year.

“We’re dealing with criminal syndicates around the world,” he said. “Depending on whom you ask, we get attacked 1 million times a week from people trying to get into the database.”

The IRS spends a lot of time, money and effort trying to stay ahead of the hackers, Koskinen said. Following the IRS breach and the larger ones at the Office of Personnel Management, Congress is paying greater attention to these issues.

“No one wants to be responsible or accountable for underfunding our ability to deal with cybersecurity on one hand, and identity theft on the other,” he said.


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