Do you know that childhood game “Duck, Duck, Goose”? It’s the one where whoever is “it” walks around a circle patting players on the head as he or she says, “Duck” over and over. Finally, whoever is “it” pats one particular player on the head, screams “Goose!” and runs away, taking everyone by surprise.

That’s kind of how I felt today when I heard that President Obama had announced his intent to nominate John Koskinen as Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. It took me – and many others in the industry – completely by surprise.

Koskinen doesn’t have any experience in tax policy or tax law, though, in his defense, most IRS Commissioners over the past twenty years – including Shulman – didn’t either. Rather, Koskinen’s background is heavily institutional, including a stint as the former chairman of Freddie Mac: he served as Non-Executive Chairman of Freddie Mac from 2008 to 2011 and acting CEO of the company in 2009. Freddie Mac. Hmm. Okay, there has to be something else…

Prior to that, according to his resume, he was President of the United States Soccer Foundation. Um, okay. I like soccer. And it has something to do with taxes, I’m sure. Thinking, thinking. Nope, I got nothing.

What else? He served Deputy Mayor and City Administrator of Washington, D.C. from 2000 to 2003, under D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. Yeah, D.C. residents aren’t keen on paying federal taxes… So what else?

Before that, Koskinen headed up efforts to save the world from certain collapse – or not – due to computer failures related to “Y2K” for the year 2000. Yeah. Anything?

Oh, wait. He served Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton (Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel likewise served in the OMB). And he used to be a lawyer, like everyone else in D.C.

So he’s totally qualified, right?

With that resume, it feels like a pretty obtuse nod, considering the state of affairs in Washington as between Congress and IRS.

President Obama, of course, has confidence in Koskinen, saying:

John is an expert at turning around institutions in need of reform. With decades of experience, in both the private and public sectors, John knows how to lead in difficult times, whether that means ensuring new management or implementing new checks and balances. Every part of our government must operate with absolute integrity and that is especially true for the IRS. I am confident that John will do whatever it takes to restore the public’s trust in the agency.

And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew supports the nomination, saying that Koskinen is “the right person to take on this critical position at this important time.”

But not everyone is a fan.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the top serving member of the Senate Finance Committee, was clearly more than a little miffed at the announcement. He said about the choice, “As is always the case, this nominee will be fairly and thoroughly considered by the Finance Committee and the Senate to serve as the next IRS Commissioner. But given the magnitude of the scandal facing the IRS, I am more than a little mystified that neither the President nor the Secretary of Treasury either consulted with or told me in advance about this decision to select this nominee.”
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) offered a more positive spin. Sen. Baucus said, about the nod, “I am pleased with the President’s choice of John Koskinen to be the next IRS Commissioner. He has the right background and experience in helping turnaround organizations facing tough challenges.” Koskinen will require confirmation by the full Senate in order to take over the reins at IRS.

If confirmed, Koskinen would replace Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel who stepped up in May one day after President Obama accepted the resignation of then Acting Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Steven T. Miller. Miller resigned on May 15, 2013, in the midst of the tax-exempt organization scandal that has plagued the IRS. Miller accepted the post after former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said goodbye in November 2012; Shulman had served a nearly four-year term at the helm of the IRS.

You got all that?

While Werfel was well-liked in D.C., it is not surprising that he didn’t get a permanent nod – and it’s not clear that he would have wanted the position. Historically, the Acting Commissioner does not accede to be Commissioner, with most acting only a few months (believe it or not, a few have only held the position for a couple of days).

And it’s clearly a tough gig. Assuming Koskinen is confirmed, he will oversee the agency’s nearly 90,000 employees and be responsible for an increasingly complicated set of tax laws and related rules – including the controversial individual mandate in the health care act.

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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