Monday, August 26, 2013
George K. Yin (Virginia),
Let's Get the Facts of the Couzens Investigation Right!, 140 Tax Notes 950 (Aug. 26, 2013):
I am sympathetic to Jay Starkman's criticism of the practice since 1998 of appointing persons without tax experience to be IRS Commissioner [Practitioner Sees Need for Restructuring the IRS, 140 Tax Notes 837 (Aug. 19, 2013)]. Given the principal mission of the agency, it is plausible that an outstanding tax professional would be better situated to energize the workforce, instill the importance of integrity and professionalism, and provide more meaningful scrutiny of the agency's activities. We have had many examples of past Commissioners with tax backgrounds who have had those qualities. Such a person would also likely have longstanding relationships with wise colleagues familiar with the tax system that could be drawn upon when the inevitable challenging situations arise in the Commissioner's office. Arguably, the change carried out since 1998 has been exactly backwards. Rather than filling the Commissioner's slot and Oversight Board with business/"management" experts (and others with unclear qualifications), it may have been better to place Commissioner-quality tax professionals in all of those positions. Unfortunately, as Starkman notes, it appears that the shift away from tax experience in the management of the agency is going to continue.
Starkman errs, however, in repeating stale charges that the 1924-1926 Couzens investigation showed the agency to be "corrupt" and exposed a large scandal involving "plain graft." On completion of the long investigation, the chief counsel of the investigative committee testified before the Senate Finance Committee and Senator Couzens that the investigation had not uncovered corruption at the agency. To be sure, the investigation questioned many of the agency's decisions and administrative practices. There were also isolated instances of fraud which the agency had uncovered and revealed to the investigative committee at the start of its work. But the widespread allegations of corrupt practices, including favorable treatment of companies associated with Treasury Secretary Mellon, were not established.
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