- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

An oversight board authorized two years ago to help reform the Internal Revenue Service an agency many lawmakers viewed as running amok has yet to be impaneled.
Most of the blame falls on the White House for dawdling in picking nominees and on the Senate for failing to confirm them once those nominations were made.
"The administration waited too long," Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, said shortly before leaving town for the monthlong August recess.
Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said in January that "finalizing a slate of qualified and willing candidates has, to the frustration of many including me personally taken longer than we ever imagined."
Rep. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, countered that "the administration has always been opposed to a private oversight board and has, as a result, dragged its feet for two years." He is co-chairman of an IRS reform commission with Mr. Kerrey.
Nominees for the seven-member board were due January 1999, but the first five names were not offered until May 1999, and the final nomination came to the Senate on Jan. 27, 2000, according to White House documents.
The board was authorized by the Internal Revenue Service Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998.
The original bill was the product of a bipartisan, bicameral commission, but the final draft was not completed until after an inquiry into IRS abuse by Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr., Delaware Republican.
While many of the shocking charges leveled would later prove overstated, national attention to Mr. Roth's hearings gave an unstoppable momentum to the legislation and the oversight board that the Clinton administration had opposed.
The board includes six members from the private sector with management, customer service, tax law, or information technology experience. A seventh represents IRS employees. And the Treasury secretary and commissioner of the IRS will also sit on the board.
The board has no authority to develop federal tax policy but will oversee the administration of federal tax laws, including audits, collections and criminal investigations.
"Very few people understand the importance of this board," said Mr. Kerrey.
As a result, Mr. Clinton may have procrastinated in making his picks for the board, but there were no vocal proddings to expedite his choices coming from Congress either, Mr. Kerrey and Mr. Portman said.
Further delaying approval was a nominee who had been a member of the IRS reform commission, James W. Wetzler, who opposed having a private board at all. After objections from Mr. Roth and others the name was withdrawn.
When the Senate Finance Committee finally did approve Mr. Clinton's nominees in March, they were immediately snarled in a fight between the administration and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
Upset about the treatment of a State Department whistleblower, Mr. Grassley blocked the nominations of two ambassadors. Democrats retaliated by blocking Mr. Grassley's pick for the IRS oversight board, Iowa cattleman Charles L. Kolbe, and Republican leaders, in turn, held up the other IRS board nominees.
On the last day before the Senate left town for its August recess, Mr. Grassley released his hold on the ambassadors, but it is not clear whether that means the board members will be confirmed.
Democratic and Republican leadership aides said there do not appear to be any further "holds" on the nominees, but "complications" can always crop up.
The agency's funding has been affected by the absence of the board.
While those who wrote the IRS reform legislation recommended that IRS' funding be kept stable for at least three years to help improvements, both the House and Senate proposed cutting the tax collector's budget for 2001 below the administration's request.
"There is not a lot of confidence [in the IRS]," Mr. Portman said, explaining why Republicans proposed the cuts. "That's what the board would have brought … to the budget hearings."
The IRS reform bill specifically says the board must "review and approve" the IRS' budget request.
That review, says Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, would have given IRS "more credibility."
But he says the agency suffers from a more deep-seated problem. While lawmakers are eager to attack the agency for its shortcomings, they generally neglect any responsibility for its day-to-day upkeep.
Mr. Roth's hearings were no exception, Mr. Cardin said.
"The IRS is still an orphan," he said.

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