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The Treasury Department is slowly staffing up, filling key tax roles that will be instrumental for tax reform and shaping IRS regulations.
Two of the five Treasury and Internal Revenue Service jobs are currently filled. A sixth job, the IRS commissioner position, will open up in November when John Koskinen’s five-year term ends.
Filling the assistant secretary for tax policy position with David Kautter and the deputy assistant secretary for tax policy with Dana Trier are both “unequivocal pluses,” said Mark Mazur, who served as assistant secretary for tax policy in the Obama administration. This puts people in charge of the tax policy direction for legislation and regulations at Treasury.
“David and Dana understand the immensity of the task they are undertaking and will not underestimate how difficult it will be,” Mazur, who now directs the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told Bloomberg BNA. “Less experienced people might not fully understand.”
So far, tax reform conversations have been between the Big Six—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas).
Having top tax policy roles at Treasury filled means the administration has more tax expertise to weigh in on the policy details, said Eric Solomon, a former Treasury official who is now a principal at Ernst & Young LLP.
Treasury has a massive task ahead if congressional Republicans are able to fulfill their promises of overhauling the tax code by year’s end. These key roles in the department and at the IRS are traditionally filled by each administration, but President Donald Trump or Mnuchin could bring in additional people to work on specific priorities.
Three Treasury tax positions require Senate confirmation:
Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy: David Kautter Kautter took over the top tax post at Treasury this month and will play a key role in leading the tax reform charge there. He expressed support for a revenue-neutral tax package, but said at his Senate confirmation hearing he was reluctant to eliminate the ability of businesses to deduct interest.
Kautter previously led RSM US LLP’s Washington National Tax group. He has also managed American University’s Kogod Tax Center and before that worked at Ernst & Young LLP for more than three decades.
IRS Chief Counsel: No Appointment The top lawyer at the IRS advises the agency’s commissioner on the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of tax laws. William Paul is the acting chief counsel until an appointment is made.
Trump could be waiting for a new IRS commissioner to be selected before filling the position, because the chief counsel works closely with the commissioner, according to a former Treasury official who asked for anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak on government personnel matters.
IRS Commissioner: No AppointmentKoskinen, whose term ends in November, has said he would stay in the agency’s top job if the president were to ask him to serve another five years.
The commissioner’s job will be hard to fill, because the IRS is a large, challenging organization to lead, a former Treasury official said. Nobody walks around saying they love the IRS, the former official said.
“Who wants that job?” Joe Sica, one of the private sector members on the IRS Electronic Tax Administration Advisory Committee, said.
“There are good people out there, but it’s such a pressure-ridden, political, and operational job,” said Sica, the chief public policy officer at Green Dot/Tax Products Group.
Kautter will pick personnel for the following positions, which don’t require Senate confirmation:
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy: Dana TrierTrier took over as the principal deputy to Kautter this month. In that role, he will focus on implementing legislative priorities and coordinate the administrative guidance projects.
Trier is a retired partner of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, where he focused on the tax aspects of mergers and acquisitions and private equity.
Trier has robust practice history, having advised clients on topics such as corporate tax, partnerships, consolidated returns, and pensions and benefits, said Neil Barr, the head of Davis Polk’s Tax Department, who worked with Trier.
Trier will likely be at the forefront of the tax overhaul efforts as well as working with IRS chief counsel to oversee regulatory reform priorities.
Emily McMahon held this position in the previous administration.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Tax Affairs: No AppointmentAppointment to Treasury’s top international tax post brings with it the responsibility for dealing with tax treaties and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
This position also involves interfacing with foreign leaders on issues such as the state aid cases in the European Union.
Robert Stack, who is now at Deloitte Tax LLP, previously held this job.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Analysis: No AppointmentThe person in this role is in charge of analyzing the effects of current tax law and alternative programs. Frequently, the assistant secretary of tax policy is a lawyer, not an economist—as is the case with Kautter—so this official would be responsible for researching a policy’s economic effects.
“The economists will play an extremely important role in tax legislation because they bring a lot of institutional knowledge,” EY’s Solomon said. “A lot of the career economists have been there for a long time and have knowledge about previous tax reform initiatives that have happened over the years.”
Adam Looney, who had the job last in the Obama administration, is now with Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
The following positions aren’t officially political appointees but frequently turn over during an administration change, because their roles are heavily involved in promoting a president’s legislative and regulatory agenda:
Legislative Tax Counsel: Tom WestWest, who also served as legislative tax counsel during the Obama administration, will stay on in the Trump administration. He supervises the career attorneys and accountants who advise on tax legislation and regulations.
Tax reform is as much a technical exercise as it is political, Mazur said. The political appointees help ensure that the career tax experts’ work has political support. The legislative tax counsel advises the congressional tax-writing committees in drafting legislation and also helps document the legislative history for the bills.
Benefits Tax Counsel: Robert NeisNeis has been with Treasury since 2012, and will continue as the top reviewer of employee benefits-related tax rules and legislation. In this role, he is responsible for developing and reviewing policy, legislation, and regulations that address issues including employee benefits taxation, retirement plans, employee stock ownership plans, and health benefits.
International Tax Counsel: No AppointmentThis job entails directing the career attorneys working on international tax issues for legislative and regulatory projects.
Having a deep bench on the international front will be important during tax reform, because many proposed changes to the tax code would alter laws enacted prior to a highly globalized economy, Mazur said.
Danielle Rolfes was the most recent appointee in the Obama administration.
To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Davison in Washington at lDavison@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at firstname.lastname@example.org
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