IRS boss Koskinen backs tax reform, calls system 'a mess'

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Wednesday that the agency fully supports tax reform efforts, acknowledging the existing U.S. tax code is such a “mess” that even he struggles to fill out his federal returns.

“Nobody’s more supportive of tax simplification than the IRS. … The tax code is a mess. It is difficult for the IRS commissioner to fill out his tax returns,” Koskinen, who has a Yale law degree, told Fox News at a Washington, D.C., conference on improving government services.

Koskinen, who became commissioner in 2013 under then-President Barack Obama, made clear the agency doesn’t meddle in policy but said he started talking with the new administration about tax reform just weeks after then-candidate Donald Trump was elected and the IRS continues to offer help.

“One of the questions was, ‘If major tax reform simplification was on the table, would there be anybody in the IRS opposed to that?’ I was quick to respond, after having talked to employees, that nobody is more supportive of tax simplification than the IRS,” he said.

Koskinen said he started soliciting suggestions from employees last year about ways to simplify and streamline the code and called such reform “one of our highest priorities.”

Tax reform was a big part of Trump’s winning campaign and one of his first-100-days promises.

In mid-April, with the 100-day marker nearing, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the tax code would be simplified to the extent that “the average American should be able to do his taxes on a large post card.”

He and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn followed the announcement two days later with more specifics -- most notably plans to double the standard deduction for most Americans and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three: 10, 25 and 35 percent.

Mnuchin called the proposed changes the “biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country.”

But with the 100-day marker in the rearview, the leaders of the GOP-controlled House -- where tax and other money-related bills start -- have yet to craft a reform bill.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said Monday that the West Wing wants a tax reform draft “locked in place” before the August recess. However, the administration has also said it won’t push for the bill to be introduced in the House until the chamber’s Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee agree on the specifics.

“Most people want to be compliant, but when you make it very difficult for them … to work through the various nooks and crannies, it doesn't seem, to me, to be in the best interest of the taxpayer or government,” Koskinen said Wednesday at the event, organized in part by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

Koskinen also said he’s made “very clear” to the White House, Treasury Department and Congress that the IRS is involved in tax administration, not tax policy. However, he and the entire agency are eager to implement changes and try to make them as effective and easily understandable as possible.

“If you have an idea, oftentimes you can implement it in a way that is very complicated,” he said. “There can be more straight-forward or simpler ways to do it.”