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Ogden • IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz's relentless drive to impeach him will scare good people away from entering government service and is damaging his agency.
"If this is the signal we are sending to people thinking about coming to take a senior position in government, it's going to make it harder for good people to come in," Koskinen told reporters during a visit Wednesday to the Ogden IRS service center.
He adds that Republicans have slashed the IRS budget to punish him and the agency. With that, the Ogden center has lost 1,300 employees through attrition over the past five years leaving about 5,000 there and customer service is suffering.
Chaffetz, a Republican, fired back that if Koskinen wants to stop such perceived damage, "He can solve this himself by doing the right thing for the nation and stepping aside. He is so egotistical that he can't bear to do that."
Koskinen, 77, told reporters that President Barack Obama called him out of retirement he was chief of Freddie Mac and an executive who specialized in reviving stressed companies to stabilize the IRS after reports that it disproportionately targeted conservative nonprofit groups for close scrutiny.
Chaffetz, who leads the House Oversight Committee, filed for Koskinen's impeachment. He even personally testified in a hearing against him, saying Koskinen lied to the committee and failed to provide subpoenaed documents.
"I've testified truthfully every time," Koskinen said Wednesday. "We provided the committee 1.3 million pages of documents, so it's not as though they can point to any document we didn't provide."
Koskinen does not particularly need the job, he said, and isn't worried about himself.
"It goes beyond me. My concern is that no appointed official has been impeached for 140 years. So if we are suddenly, on relatively poorly supported facts, going to start attacking senior officials, people in the private sector" will have second thoughts about public service.
They will think, "It doesn't look like much fun," he said. "You get yelled at a lot in a hearing," and Congress may try "to impeach you." House Republicans even sought, he said, to reduce his salary to zero or take away his pension.
Future presidents may discover that it is "harder to find people who want to be Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, agency heads," he said. "It's going to be interesting to see who wants to take this seat next."
Koskinen said the IRS has implemented all recommendations from its inspector general and the Senate Finance Committee (led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah) on how to repair problems with unfair targeting. "We have fixed the problem."
So why does he believe Chaffetz is still targeting his agency?
"The IRS is not necessarily anyone's favorite agency. So once you get an issue that is good for politics and good for campaigning," he said, "it is kind of attractive to keep that issue alive."
Chaffetz responded in a telephone interview. "He may say it has been fixed, but the GAO [Government Accountability Office, a research arm of Congress] begs to differ."
Chaffetz said Koskinen "has not solved this problem. He has exacerbated it." Also, "I think he provided false testimony to Congress. There should be a consequence."
Koskinen said he plans to serve until his term ends in November 2017. "I have no intention of being hounded out of office."
Budget cuts have hurt the entire IRS, Koskinen said, and customer service has suffered. He said cuts started when GOP opponents of the Affordable Care Act sought to hurt the agency's ability to help implement the new law, and then the targeting scandal added "kerosene to the fire."
Chaffetz acknowledged, "We've tried to use the power of the purse to effect change. The IRS commissioner has elected to take it out on the rank and file, rather than doing the honorable thing and leaving office himself."
Chaffetz added, "We're not going to have productive interactions with the IRS as long as he's the commissioner. ... I do think it's affecting tens of thousands of workers in a very negative way. That's his choice, not mine."