WASHINGTON – Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Wednesday that he hopes the government will be able to accelerate the delivery of millions of tax refund checks, getting them into Americans' hands before September.
O'Neill told reporters at the Treasury Department that he is pushing top officials at the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service to explore all options for speeding up the refunds authorized by the just-passed $1.35 trillion tax-cut package.
"I am looking for ways that we might be able to do better than the September period that people have been talking about," O'Neill told reporters during a brief interview session at the Treasury Department.
"We may not be able to do better than that, but I am not satisfied that we can't yet," said O'Neill, who said he pressed officials during a staff meeting earlier Wednesday to look at various options.
The package approved by the House and Senate on Saturday authorizes individuals to get a maximum $300 back this year, while single parents could receive up to $500 and married couples up to $600.
Even before the tax bill passed, the Treasury Department had begun preparing for the possibility that rebate checks would be provided to an estimated 95 million taxpayers this year, ordering the paper needed to print the checks.
The administration is counting on getting money back into people's hands as quickly as possible to stimulate consumer spending and counteract the current economic slowdown.
O'Neill conceded that Treasury faced significant logistical problems in getting millions of refund checks to the proper addresses, but he predicted the government would be up to the task.
The IRS was currently confronting "all the complex issues of how one sends money back to a population that is constantly moving and relocating," he said.
Despite various forecasts that the government will not be up to the challenge, he said: "I think you will see that the Treasury and the IRS stand up really well to the high standards and excellence in how this job is done."
O'Neill, who gained widespread praise for his management skills at aluminum giant Alcoa, said he saw his job at Treasury as prodding the IRS to shorten, if possible, the check delivery timeframe that now calls for the first checks to begin arriving in September.
"Part of my job is to keep raising these standards of what excellence means," O'Neill said. "We had an interesting engagement with the senior staff on is it possible to do even better than people have expected on the quick delivery of refunds."
O'Neill conceded that when dealing with millions of taxpayers, some checks will be mailed to the wrong addresses, but he said government officials were seeking to minimize such problems.
The $1.35 trillion 10-year tax package, which the administration insisted was needed to counteract the current economic slowdown, would boost economic growth by about one-half percentage point over time, he said.