In response to GOP calls for his resignation, or worse, impeachment, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen has announced that he will step down following tax season. He has, however, one condition: he wants the taxpayers to choose his replacement.
Koskinen’s decision, while a bit surprising, is not completely out of character for IRS. The IRS has been tiptoeing into social media with posts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and the launch of a Tumblr account last year. This spring, IRS forayed into crowdsourcing with the launch of a design contest promoted on social media. Koskinen endorsed the notion earlier this week, saying, “Crowdsourcing is a new activity for the IRS, but we believe working with citizens and the private sector will help support innovation in an important area for the nation’s tax system. The Tax Design Challenge reflects our commitment to find the best ideas and plan for a future state of tax administration that works well for taxpayers and our partners.”
A design challenge is one thing but using crowdsourcing and social media to choose the next Commissioner of the nation’s top tax agency is quite another. Koskinen, however, thinks it makes sense. Traditionally, appointing the IRS Commissioner has been the purview of the President. Koskinen noted that Congress has already signaled to President Obama that it would not hold any hearings on a Supreme Court nominee before the election, saying that task should be left up to the next President. “What makes you think,” he queries, “why Congress would act any differently when it comes to the IRS, an agency that many in Congress has already made clear they wish to abolish?” He continued, “If the thought process is that the nominee should reflect the will of the people, why not let the people choose?”
He makes a good point.
But a competition? Details are sketchy but early indications suggest that the IRS will interview potential Koskinen replacements with an in-person campaign held in various cities around the country. To accommodate those further afield, IRS will also accept video applications, encouraging potential applicants to “shoot the video when you are at your best.” IRS personnel will review the applications and contact those chosen to move forward in the process by phone or email (yes, there is some irony in being contacted by phone or email by the IRS after they’ve advised that they never do this).
Those that make it through the initial selection process will then be put through a set of grueling challenges meant to test their worth as the next Commissioner. The challenges will be taped and broadcast as a series on the IRS’ YouTube channel (they clearly are not relying on their own technology to pull this off). The series, tentatively titled, “Who Will Become The Commish?” will run for the length of the competition. Each week, the IRS will schedule voting periods (which will, hopefully, be more convenient than their Taxpayer Assistance Center hours) for taxpayers to vote for their favorites. To vote, taxpayers must login to YouTube (or other IRS-approved social media site including Facebook, Twitter and Google – but not Snapchat. Nobody at IRS “gets” Snapchat.). Taxpayers can also cast their votes via phone or text during the voting period: however, the IRS makes it clear that any charges from your provider for text messages and/or long distance charges are personal in nature and will not be tax deductible.
Taxpayer votes will be combined scores with earned by the applicants, and each week, one applicant will be sent home.
“Kind of like Dancing With The Stars,” explained the Commissioner, “But for government and with less feathers and sequins.” It is, of course, no secret that the Commissioner is a big fan of reality television, citing Dancing With The Stars as his favorite. (In case you’re wondering, he’s picked Fuller House‘s Jodie Sweetin to go all the way this year.)
So what exactly will applicants have to do in order to prove their mettle? While the Commissioner tends to favor dance and music competitions, that’s no way to choose a Commissioner. Instead, the reality competition will focus on challenges more appropriate to the job – which requires that you be both mentally and physically tough.
Contestants – or taxtestants, if you will – will have to prove that they can translate sophisticated tax information into manageable pieces. Initially, taxtestants will have just sixty seconds to either explain inside/outside basis or how to calculate the advanced payment of the premium tax credit. (The IRS is hopeful that someone from Congress will be there to take notes.)
In the next round, taxtestants will face one of the biggest challenges for those in positions of power in government: public speaking. Taxtestants will be asked to justify FATCA to a group of expats. This must be done without a teleprompter and without crying.
To prove that they have what it takes to weather hours of Congressional committee hearings, taxtestants will be required to watch hours of old episodes of Steven Bochco’s Cop Rock. Taxtestants may not flinch, appear horrified or look away or they will immediately be disqualified. They must simply smile and nod, with hands folded respectfully.
And, while recognizing that most taxpayers find the IRS “quite frankly boring,” the Commissioner added that they would include challenges meant to attract younger viewers, including bungee-jumping from a fiscal cliff and spending time in an isolation chamber to learn first hand what “sequester” actually means (it’s not just a word).
The IRS has also lined up some pretty impressive guest stars. There won’t be any Jodie Sweetin sightings (sorry Commissioner) but tax-challenged soccer stars Lionel Messi and Neymar will make a joint guest appearance. As a nod to the ongoing issues affecting FIFA and many soccer stars abroad, Commissioner Koskinen suggested that dribbling and shooting skills could come in as handy as a handicap in golf. “Who says negotiations have to happen on a golf course? It’s just as convenient on the pitch.” He then added, “It’s worked well for me. Don’t forget that I was the President of the United States Soccer Foundation.”
Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Teresa Guidice will also stop by with a challenge of her own. Taxtestants will be forced to prove that they can be “real” by spotting the fake. In each step of the challenge, taxtestants will be forced to choose between a real and a fake item. They’ll choose from such items as a real Gucci handbag versus a knock-off, a real form W-2 versus a forged one and a legitimate bankruptcy petition versus a made-up one. Just prior to competition, Guidice will offer her own tips, some based on real life experience.
When the last of the tax forms drops, a winner will be selected. The winner will take home a fiscally responsible Toyota Prius (I hear it gets great mileage), a year’s supply of hair products and most importantly will oversee the agency’s nearly 85,000 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.
Despite some initial reservations, the proposal was approved by the IRS legal department on April 1, 2016, April Fool’s Day.
In case it wasn’t quite obvious, this is my April Fool’s Day post: Commissioner Koskinen has made it quite clear that he intends to serve out his term. I have fun with my April Fool’s Day posts every year. You can catch some of the prior posts by clicking below: