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IRS Commissioner Shulman outta here, leaving fiscal cliff hassles to new tax boss

IRS_Commissioner_2008-2012_Douglas_ShulmanWe don't have Doug Shulman to kick around anymore.

Shulman, who became Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service on March 24, 2008, clocked out for the last time on Nov. 9.

Current law calls for IRS Commissioners to serve for up to five years with their terms ending on Nov. 12 of their final year.

Since Nov. 12 is a federal holiday (Veterans Day was Sunday, but for pay and leave purposes federal workers get Monday off), that preceding Friday, Nov. 9, was Shulman's last work day.

47 IRS Commissioner Douglas ShulmanShulman was the 47th IRS Commissioner. In recognition of Shulman's term, 47 is this week's By the Numbers figure.

Shulman's tenure: As with any federal employee, Shulman had his share of detractors. And when you add the country's tax collection office into the mix, well

Thanks to my service on the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP), I was able to hear Shulman speak many times about IRS possibilities and challenges.

I particularly appreciated Shulman's willingness to work with TAP volunteers and hear our recommendations on ways to improve the agency's service to taxpayers.

In fact, Shulman often spoke of the IRS' need to do its main job, collect money for Uncle Sam, while also recognizing that its compliance and collection efforts are the most direct contact most Americans have with the federal government.

During Shulman's term he addressed some of those contact points. He revamped lien collection procedures and instituted and enhanced the IRS' Fresh Start program to help taxpayers who are facing filing and payment difficulties in the tough economy.

Shulman's direct boss, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, praised the former IRS Commissioner's efforts in these areas, saying that he "has helped make the nation’s tax system more fair, efficient and effective."

You can read Shulman's self-assessment of his years leading the IRS in a speech he gave before the American Institute of CPAs just days before his term ended.

Who's next? Steven T. Miller, a 25-year veteran of the IRS, is taking Shulman's place as Acting IRS Commissioner. 

Before assuming the agency's top job Miller was Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement.

Note the "Acting" in Miller's title. He's the 27th temporary IRS Commissioner. None of the acting commissioners have ever been selected by the president to officially run the IRS.

Miller probably won't be too disappointed to not the the job long term.

It is not the best of times to take over the IRS, what with both the fiscal cliff and the 2013 filing season on the horizon. The lateness of dealing with tax laws that expired at the end of 2011 and will expire this coming Dec. 31 are likely to mean the processing of tax returns and issuing of refunds next year will be delayed.

Congress often was a target of Shulman's ire because of its penchant to put off doing its job and the havoc such procrastination can wreak within the IRS and taxpayer lives.

Congress didn't finalize extenders legislation in 2006 until Dec. 20. That late action forced some last-minute revamping of tax forms.

The IRS also had to delay the start of the 2007 filing season for some taxpayers until February.

The next filing season, computer programming catch-up forced the IRS to delay processing of around 13.5 million tax returns until Feb. 11, 2008.

In 2010 as the Bush tax cuts faced their original expiration date and a new payroll tax cut for workers was proposed, Capitol Hill battles well into December and forced companies, the IRS and taxpayers to deal with the mess.

And last December, the fight over the payroll tax holiday extension pushed tax law finalization until year end once again.

Yogi Berra could have been talking about Washington, D.C., when he noted that it's déjà vu all over again because it's starting look like we'll all be dealing with similar tax filing hassles come 2013.

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