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IRS chief to GOP: You can't abolish us

 

The IRS commissioner on Tuesday brushed aside GOP proposals to abolish his agency, insisting the U.S. would have to have a tax collector one way or another. 

“You can call them something other than the IRS if that made you feel better,” the agency’s chief, John Koskinen, said after a speech at the National Press Club.

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Republicans have heaped even more criticism upon the agency than usual over the last 22 months because of its improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups.

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzSenate passes dozens of bills on way out of town Senate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown MORE (R-Texas) perhaps has made the most prominent calls to get rid of the IRS. While launching his presidential bid earlier in March, he floated the idea of “a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.”

“Imagine abolishing the IRS,” he added.

Koskinen said Tuesday that, even under the simplest of tax codes, the federal government would need an agency to collect revenue and administer the tax code, something Cruz’s own aides have also admitted.

“Somebody has to collect the money, and then somebody also has to make sure when you fill in the small card, you’re putting in the right numbers,” Koskinen said.

But Koskinen also said he understands why politicians seek to tap into public anger at the IRS. Conservatives have become increasingly angry at the IRS because of the Tea Party controversy, but Koskinen insisted that an overly complicated tax code spurred much of the anger at his agency.

“I think that’s a lot of what’s behind, you know, ‘get rid of the IRS.’ It’s really ‘get rid of this complicated tax code.’ And to that extent, I think that’s a reasonable goal,” Koskinen said.

Koskinen made his comments after a speech in which he said that the agency was doing its best to put the controversies of the last few years behind it. In addition to the Tea Party investigations, Congress has also rapped the IRS for excessive spending on conferences.

Congressional investigators have accused the central figure in the Tea Party controversy — Lois Lerner, who formerly led the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups — of using her personal email account to conduct agency business.

Scrutiny of that practice has only grown in recent weeks, after former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump must not pull a bait-and-switch on American workers Jewish groups divided over Hanukkah party at Trump hotel Colo. AG: Electoral College lawsuit could cause 'chaos' MORE acknowledged not having an official government account while heading the department. Clinton is expected to announce her own presidential bid in the coming weeks.

Koskinen said Tuesday that the IRS has clear rules barring staffers from using personal accounts for their public work and that he strictly follows that policy. But the IRS chief also acknowledged that “we have 87,000 people. Does that mean no one is doing it? I can’t guarantee you that. But I can guarantee we’re keeping a close watch on it.”

To illustrate how seriously the IRS takes that policy, Koskinen noted that he had sent draft congressional testimony to his home computer for editing early in his tenure.

“Within a couple days, I had a visitor from IT security,” the commissioner said, adding technology staffers quickly got him “a computer and a printer for home from the IRS.”

“I have never, other than sending a couple of pieces of draft testimony to my email account, certainly never discussed IRS business on my own personal account,” he added.