The Senate Finance Committee voted on 17-9 March 2 to send the nomination of Daniel Werfel as IRS commissioner for the term ending November 2027 to the full Senate at a crucial turning point for the agency that will continue to be under close scrutiny to deliver on its promises.
The vote was bipartisan, with three Republicans voting in favor of Werfel. Republican yes votes were Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Todd Young of Indiana. Tom Tillis of North Carolina did not cast a vote.
“The fact that Mr. Werfel’s nomination passed through committee with bipartisan support is a testament to his record as a fair-minded public servant who’s able to work with both sides in Congress,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.
Werfel was nominated by President Biden November 10, 2022, following former Commissioner Chuck Rettig’s departure from the agency. Doug O’Donnell has served in an acting capacity to bridge the gap between permanent appointees. Werfel’s clearing of the committee-level hurdle comes two weeks following his confirmation hearing, where he fielded questions from members on both sides of the aisle anxious to hear how the IRS would course correct under his leadership.
He faced concerns about the biggest question marks that currently loom over the agency, such as the need for better taxpayer access to customer support, doubts surrounding the future of audit selection across income and racial demographics, and protection of sensitive taxpayer data. Werfel’s temperament and willingness to cooperate with Congress in the interest of transparency seemed to quell the nerves of some on the committee.
“In his own words, he’s a rule follower,” said Wyden in his opening remarks Thursday ahead of the vote. “He’s going to do this job consistent with the law and he’ll work with both sides of this committee.”
Werfel has been employed by the Boston Consulting Group since 2014, where he has led the firm’s public sector practice. He previously served as acting IRS commissioner in 2013, appointed by President Obama.
Although Werfel’s performance before Senate Finance swayed some Republican support, some higher-ranking members of the minority protested his confirmation due to the IRS’ failure to timely produce its spending plan for the $80 billion appropriation from the Inflation Reduction Act (PL 117-169), which was due February 17 as mandated by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, filled in for Senate Finance Ranking Member Mike Crapo of Idaho at the brief committee meeting before it recessed and later voted off the Senate floor due to a lack of quorum earlier that morning. Cornyn lambasted the passage of the additional funding, which he described as a “blank check” given to the IRS despite its lack of a detailed spending roadmap.
“Can you imagine a private business spending $80 billion without first having a plan in place? It’s a preposterous idea,” he said, adding that the resources will result in more audits for middle-income families and small businesses by way of a “growing army of IRS agents.”
“While I cannot support Mr. Werfel’s nomination, I will acknowledge his background and willingness to serve as the IRS Commissioner,” Cornyn said to close his remarks. “If confirmed, Mr. Werfel will face a number of challenges and rebuilding the trust America’s tax collector has lost with taxpayers over the years, and I wish him well.”
In his prepared statement for the meeting, Crapo echoed similar sentiments, writing that the IRS has had a “spend first, plan later” approach. He criticized the breakdown of the funding, to which “only a paltry 6% … goes towards modernization.” Crapo also declined to support Werfel’s nomination, but expressed that Werfel has demonstrated he has shared areas of concern with committee Republicans.
Wyden commented that committee members of both parties eagerly await the IRS’ spending plan, but commended the agency’s early progress in reducing call wait times during the tax season, “evidently as close to 90%.”
Later in his statement following the vote, Wyden said there is “no doubt that Mr. Werfel understands the challenge, and he’s also going to ensure the IRS continues making progress improving customer service.”
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