Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday announced that Douglas O’Donnell will serve as acting head of the tax agency after Commissioner Chuck Rettig’s term ends on November 12.
“I want to thank Commissioner Rettig for his tireless service to the American people across two administrations, and his leadership of the IRS during the difficult and unique challenges posed by COVID-19. I am grateful to him for his partnership and efforts to ensure taxpayers had the resources they needed to make it through the pandemic,” Yellen said in a statement.
O’Donnell, a 36-year employee of the IRS who rose to the level of deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, will be taking over at a critical time for the beleaguered agency.
After years of underfunding and staffing cuts, the agency was also tasked with the additional responsibility of sending out millions of relief payments during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has struggled recently with customer service and a huge backlog of unprocessed returns. It is set to receive a funding boost of $80 billion over 10 years as part of Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. That extra money, meant to help improve service, modernize technology and crack down on tax cheats and avoiders, has become the subject of attacks by Republicans, who have claimed misleadingly that the agency’s beefed- up workforce will include an army of agents targeting the middle class. Republicans have pledged to make repeal of the added IRS funding their first priority if they win control of the House.
That kind of criticism is nothing new for the IRS, which has taken fire from both parties. Republicans were infuriated by allegations that the agency had targeted conservative organizations and by a leak of the individual tax returns of some wealthy filers. More recently, Democrats have questioned how the agency came to audit two former leaders of the FBI who had clashed with President Donald Trump. And members of both parties slammed the agency for destroying millions of documents.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, repeatedly called for Rettig to be fired, saying, “The IRS under Donald Trump’s handpicked commissioner Charles Rettig has been one catastrophe after another.”
That means that O’Donnell, as acting commissioner, will undoubtedly be at the center of the storm, at least until a permanent commissioner is nominated and confirmed. Yellen portrayed him as a dedicated civil servant. “Deputy Commissioner O’Donnell has dedicated his career to serving American taxpayers through every level of the agency,” she said. “His commitment to improving the experience of the American taxpayer will guide his and the agency’s work as they continue their efforts to propel the IRS forward during a critical period of modernization. Now more than ever, the IRS has the momentum to transform with service, technology and workforce improvements that will make it a world-class agency to meet the needs of the American people.”