Thursday, May 26 , 2016, 12:07 am | Fair 59º

Mark Shields: Unflappable IRS Chief John Koskinen Represents the Best in Public Service

By Mark Shields |

A while back, after the Gallup poll had reported that public confidence in Congress had fallen to a then-record low of 9 percent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., observed that for Congress, “9 percent” meant we were down to “paid staffers and blood relatives.” When a more recent Gallup poll found public confidence in Congress had dropped even further to only 7 percent, McCain amended his analysis. Reporting that he had just received a blunt call from his mother, Roberta, still remarkable at 102 years old, he said, “I can report that we are now down to just paid staffers.”

The fact is that public confidence, undermined, certainly, by the government’s failures following Hurricane Katrina, in preventing the financial crisis of 2008, in its botched rollout of health care, and the tragedy of not providing solemnly promised medical care to military veterans, in the U.S. government (including the U.S. Supreme Court and the presidency) has continued to fall. Americans are less confident and more cynical today than they were when so many rallied to Teddy Roosevelt’s optimistic summons: “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.”

Please let me tell you about my friend, John Koskinen, whom I’ve known for 35 years. John went to public high school in Kentucky, and with the help of a scholarship following his father’s death graduated from college. He finished law school, and, by all worldly criteria, he was enormously successful at the demanding challenge of taking charge of failing enterprises, turning them around and shepherding their recovery.

Former President George W. Bush picked John to lead Freddie Mac, the housing finance giant that had become a ward of the U.S. government, as the nation’s financial system trembled on the brink of collapse. Because of improbable crises, John, at one time, served simultaneously — and successfully — as Freddie Mac’s CEO, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. This was following his earlier service as administrator for the District of Columbia in the middle of the financial crisis, caused by the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the 9/11 attacks, the anthrax threat and the panic of the Beltway sniper. This is a man, you can see, who goes out of his way to not avoid trouble.

Before that, former President Bill Clinton had named John chairman of the council to prevent the widely feared catastrophes accompanying the Y2K conversion. National concern that computers controlling the nation’s utilities, banks, air traffic and street lights would fail was real. John, as is his pattern, listened closely, asked directly and acted rationally, even appointing 12 global coordinators to prevent problems internationally. Clinton had been impressed by John’s earlier success at evading disaster when, at the time of the shutting down of the government in 1995, he was in charge.

John may be a glutton for punishment. He now has the most thankless job in the Western world. He is the commissioner of the IRS, never a popular institution but now reeling from admissions that it had applied excessive scrutiny to applicants seeking tax-exempt status with Tea Party in their namse, and from thousands of lost emails and 2,000 employees’ hard drives crashing in 2014 alone.

In the face of the partisan bullying by showboating House Republicans — always in front of the cameras — the unflappable John Koskinen continues to do what he has spent a lifetime doing: his duty. He listens. He learns. He lifts the morale of those with whom he works. He serves his country. He honors public service. That’s more than anyone can say for his congressional inquisitors.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.