tv Newsmakers CSPAN February 28, 2016 7:15pm-7:49pm EST
to the white house coverage, which continues tomorrow, we will continue with republican presidential candidate senator marco rubio of florida in a campaign rally at, atlanta. that is at 12: 30 p.m. eastern on c-span two. ted cruz holds a rally in san antonio. joining him as texas governor greg abbott and former governor and presidential candidate rick perry. that is at 3:00 p.m. eastern on c-span three. hillary clinton has scheduled a campaign rally at georgia mason university in fairfax, virginia -- virginia. that is on c-span3. at 6:00, republican presidential candidate donald trump speaks in georgia. we have that for you also on c-span3. ♪
>> this week, we are sitting down with the irs commissioner john koskinen. we had to reporters here to help us with questioning. if i may, i am going to go first. donald trump is saying that he been audited almost every year by the irs. i know you cannot talk about somebody's personal taxes, but would somebody be audited every year? he says it is going back almost every year of the obama administration. commissioner koskinen: as you know, we cannot talk about individual cases, but it would be rare for anyone to be audited every year. usually, when there is an audit and it is cleared up, it is a number of years before you hear from us again. unless something in your next return pops up. but as a matter of formal auditing, it would be rare.
greta: he also says he is not going to release his tax returns while he is being audited. is there something from the irs that prevents him from releasing his tax returns? commissioner koskinen: again, with my caveat that i cannot talk about individual cases, the taxpayer controls his returns. there is nothing in the process that would keep you from sharing that information anyway you wanted to. greta: ok, so what do you make about his claims that he needs the audit to be cleared up? commissioner koskinen: we stress that we are in tax administration so we have no , stake in any of the primaries going on or comments being made by candidates. from our standpoint, if you are being audited and you want to do something else, you can do that. >> one of the other things he said is maybe he is being
audited because he is a strong christian. is that the reason why the irs would audit someone? what would pop up that would trigger an audit? commissioner koskinen: that is something that would never cause you to be audited. i want to make clear, we don't care who you are, who you voted for, what party you belong to whether you go to church , or not. if you hear from us in response to an inquiry, it is about something in your tax return. if someone had that same issue, they would hear from us as well. it would never be a case that you would be audited because of any religious persuasive -- persuasion you might happen to have. >> ted cruz said as part of his tax plan, a he would abolish the irs. you have a response to that? commissioner koskinen: as i have said, tax policy is a domain of the administration in the congress. we do tax administration.
, from my experience in the private sector, i am a big believer in tax simplification. i would not have an interest in any in particular. anything that could be done to make the tax code simpler, as well as the irs. we would be supportive of that. as i have said in the past, even to au got it down postcard, and filled it out and needd it in, you would somebody to receive the postcard, received the money, and make sure the numbers on the postcard are the right numbers. and follow up with an auditor or inquiry if it was a question about that. in theas what i said past, if you want to call it something other than the irs and it makes you feel better about it, that would be all right. last year, we collected about $3.3 trillion. from individuals and corporations. no matter how simple the tax code becomes, somebody has to collect them money and make sure
it is the right amount from the right people. >> we are again in tax season, where you are collecting those trillions. the irs announced there was a breach last year were thousands of taxpayer accounts were breached and people were trying to steal identities. the irs said today there is even more than we have previously and a similar situation with e-file personal identification numbers. what is the state of the irs cyber security initiative? how secure is information? commissioner koskinen: it is an important matter that we have assigned high priority we are two. fortunate in the sense that the database of the irs has not been breached. it does not mean there are not literally hundreds of thousands or millions every day on the database, because it is very valuable. we spent a lot of time and resources protecting taxpayer
information and the database. the problem we are dealing with is very sophisticated, well-funded criminals around the world, who have a huge volume of personal information on a wide range of individuals who could effectively masquerade as a taxpayer. to -- criminals were able to not only have the name, social security number, and other identifiers associated with a taxpayer, and half the cases the , criminals are able to answer questions that only the taxpayer should have known. two or three years ago, the questions were kind of state-of-the-art for identification and authentication. it has become clear there is so much information as a result of data breaches in the private sector and government agencies, that relying only on those questions will stop -- will not stop those attacks.
as a general matter, the database is secure. but we are fighting a major ongoing battle against identity theft and all of the information out there. information about taxpayers is -- was not obtained from the irs, it was already in the hands of the criminals, and they were using it to masquerade as individual taxpayers. >> what have you learned from those incidents about what kind of authentication barriers you need from people? as far as the vision you are trying to lay out, to have the irs feel more like an ongoing -- online banking type relationship, how do you make sure it is a real tax there -- taxpayer? commissioner koskinen: it is the key to being able to go forward in a future state. is giving you an online account that is secure, where you are comfortable and nobody else has access to the account, and we are comfortable when you come in, you are you, and not one of these criminals.
what we have done since we took the that transcript application down, a look at it nine terms of how do we make these applications more secure, but how do we develop based date of the art authentication system that will work to protect those online accounts when we develop them? first step, which we had already taken some time ago, is to cut down the ability of organized criminals to do what we call attacks, and mass get a large volume of taxpayer'' information at one time. put inf the systems we place over the last year have made it much easier for us to monitor those and easier to stop it. nonetheless, we still need to be able to deal with criminals who are going to attack individual accounts. we will not put a transcript application of until we are confident that we are really at the state of security, and we can match security that taxpayers are comfortable with in the private sector.
>> i think the average taxpayer is hearing that you are battling organized crime to keep information safe, they would be a little worried. can you give them assurance that this filing season that they will be secure? commissioner koskinen: i can't guarantee anybody that nothing will happen, but we have made significant progress over the last 2-3 years. we have a constrained budget, as you know. data,en then, protecting fighting id theft and refund data is high priority. we continue to invest your most significantly, about one year ago, i invited in the ceos of preparers,ax software developers, and all of the state insurance commissioners to meet and create where what we need to do is work together to improve the security for taxpayers. we now have information being exchanged literally every day between preparers, state tax
commissions, and the irs looking for suspicious patterns of activity, sharing data, and indications of refund 5 -- refund fraud. as a result, we . as a result, we stopped about 400,000 suspicious returns, and as we get that information, we share it out. now we have several hundred thousand files of suspicious patterns and activity that we are able, with the software we to take a look at, what are the patterns? it's one thing to see an individual. comingcan see patterns from around the world where there are issues that identify as suspicious areas of activity. i think this year will be able -- even be more secure and able to protect taxpayers than in the
past. it is an ongoing battle. >> you said basically that the money situation has been one of the largest issues you are worried about. is there a similar lining -- silver lining, because of the threats? is assioner koskinen: it very good thing, obviously we had a very low -- intolerable level of taxpayer service last year, because we did not have enough people to answer the phone, because we did not have money to pay. we have $290 million more for this fiscal year, the first increase in six years. that was a significant move forward. it is identified for taxpayer service, identity theft, and cyber security, which are three priorities for us in congress. we have given a detailed spending plan to the congress. , of that money will be spent improving taxpayer service.
it has already gone up significantly over where it was last year. it clear to to make everyone that the $290 million was in response to a request for $700 million in additional funding. we're making good progress thanks to the additional funding, but the additional requests, we would like to get it back to the level it was in the mid-2000. 80% of calls go through initially, and nobody has to wait more than five minutes. we will not reach that this year, but we will be a lot better this year than last year. >> what do you say to taxpayers -- when i talkrs to them, they are frustrated at not being able to get anyone on the phone, not being able to -- sitting on hold, not getting any answers. what do you say, how do you justify and defend their inability to get through to people? commissioner koskinen: we spend a lot of time with preparers.
for the last couple of years, they have understood that the low-level taxpayer service, inability to get active in as quickly as we like is not because we don't think it is important. it is not because we don't care. people who care most are the irs employees who view it as their mission to help. when you have to stay online for a lengthy time, they are troubled by that. so as we go forward, i think people have understood, and this year will show, that the level of taxpayer service is destined -- directly responsible to the level of funding. it is a direct relationship to how many people we had answering the phone. what we will use the money for this year is to hire a little over 1000 people to have the service get better. i think everyone understands to get better, it is going to take more resources. we are being as efficient as we
can, moving as many services and inquiries into online counts as we can, but ultimately, people need to get a hold of the irs on the phone, and a has to be people on the other end to answer. >> switching gears a little. the irs approved a tax exemption for crossroads gps which played a large role in elections. there have been people in the campaign finance reform said you guys basically caved because of the scandal in response to the party groups. what is your response to that? commissioner koskinen: again, i cannot tell you any details, about any individual taxpayer, but as a general matter we have been sensitive to concerns about people who applied. -- for designation as a social welfare organization.
we have taken all of the ig's recommendations. everyone deserves to be treated fairly no matter the are. whatever their political views, whatever their arrangements, they need to meet -- be treated fairly. while the inspector general suggested that the criteria are -- for determining who is appropriate as a social isanization for welfare unclear, and we should improve and clarify the regulation, we are still operating under the old regulations. congress said we should do normal work for the rest of this clarifying who fits into the categories asian. in the meantime, we continue to be a business. people are applying for determinations, and we are reviewing those and processing does. we are doing it all on online spaces for very liberal groups, very conservative groups those , right in the middle.
the message already do not have anything to do with politics. most of them are local organizations. they all deserve to be treated quickly and fairly. of the criticisms from that ig report and the taxstigation is that the exempt group was a little piece to the side and got little attention from senior leadership at the irs. how much attention do you pay to what goes on in the tax event -- exempt part of the service and do you think that is more predecessors? commissioner koskinen: i can tell you what the predecessors we, but i can tell you that do it all parts of social welfare. employee plans and determinations, governmental entities tribal , governments, all are handled by that group. it is easy to be shunted aside because we don't collect a lot of money, but we truly deliver inimportant public service
responding to requests for tax exemption, requests for an employer plan determinations, and auditing to make sure people are doing what they said they would do. i think it is a significant part of the operations. i meet with the leadership of that group at least once a month. i meet with the leadership of all the operating divisions at least once a month. , notnk it is important only for the senior leadership of the organization to be aware of what is going on across the board, but also important what are the problems that grew out of three or four years ago, that it is important for information and problems to go from the bottom up to the top. getve been trying to employees to understand that. i have met with 20,000 irs employees in person. every employee, every manager, has to feel that it is part of the responsibility to let us know if things are not going well. if someone has made a mistake or if there is a problem, we need to know about it.
people, bado tell news is good news. the problem we cannot help with is if we are not told. we still have 85,000 employees. all of the need to be comfortable, that if they see something not going well, or have a suggestion about how things could be better, we need to hear about it. the "we" includes in serious cases, people at the very top, including the commissioner. greta: we have a little over five minutes. if we could go back to auditing the four of questions, americans might be curious how the irs decides who gets audited. what is the process? commissioner koskinen: very good question. by and large, the vast majority of the audits are selected automatically.we have filters looking at what would generate questions about her return. we have 150 million returns a year. we are not looking at them manually.
us, it isr from because of some question in your return. there may be documentation missing, or information you have not included. i would stress, it is because of something in that return. no individual person in the organization can actually select a return or -- for review. the normalome out of process. we get referrals. we do encourage whistleblowers who think someone is cheating to let us know. that even those i reviewed by more than one employee before anybody engages in an audit. i think it is important for taxpayers to be comfortable that it is a fair process, objective process. dao just reviewed it and found no examples of a problem. they had examples where we could impact and and share the control , and we can adopt those. greta: there are no concerns
there could be bias and how the audits are chosen? commissioner koskinen: we had done everything we can. recommendations, we are delighted to implement. compliance of the system, for taxpayers to become to go, we really are just in the administration business and we are going to treat everybody fairly. if you hear from us about something in your return, if somebody else had that issue, they would hear from us as well. we want people to know they would be treated fairly. greta: there is possible to have been missing documents from donald trumps tax return, and that is why he would be audited? commissioner koskinen: again, i cannot talk about his situation, but it would be rare that every year you would make the same mistake. or even if you have a complicated system that usually if there is an issue on a regular basis, we audit that issue, result it with you,, o
either we agree or you would agree we would not have that point forward. some taxpayers have a complicated situation, they have companies, they may be filing a whole range of different tax returns. for the average taxpayer, most of them don't get audit coverage most that do not hear from us regularly at all, and certainly it would be an extremely rare case for anyone to be audited on an individual basis year in and year out. greta: we have time for about three more questions. >> you came in at a tough time. you and the gop wanted to reset relations. since then, there were some problems with getting information to them. they said they want to impeach you. do you feel it he did anything wrong to upset the apple cart with that relationship? commissioner koskinen: we worked very hard to be as transparent
and responsive as we can. i have testified completely and truthfully on the basis of what i knew. we cooperated with all the investigations. we have six investigations going into the whole social welfare determination process. the ig spent a year looking at all of this. the justice department spent 2.5 years looking at it. the finance committee issued its report, spent two years looking at it. none of them. there were grounds for further activity. basically they all had all the information they needed. and justice department found nobody did anything to interfere with any investigations as they go forward. the record is pretty clear we have gone out of our way to reach out to the hill, to respond quickly to their inquiries, by letter, phone, or hearing. entire life your and career before this outside the irs, and the government and outside. most people's interaction is
they file a return, maybe they get a call or don't. what do people in the public not understand or appreciate about the irs, or the not know since you have been there? commissioner koskinen: i have been delighted and surprised by a couple of things. i have been intrigued by how much time we spend trying to help taxpayers. help them figure out what they oh, how to make payments, become compliant. we have online installment agreements. if you are trying to become -- compliant, we are anxious to work with you. you don't have to hire anyone from late-night tv to work with you on your situation. -- i am excited about the caliber of our workforce. we have an amazing dedicated workforce. the bulk of these employees are career people. has been more intriguing, and the taxpayer service area, in a call center, what kind of a job can that be?
people are there for years and they love that work. they feel that if they can answer a question, give you the information, then they have been able to help you. while service last year was at a level, 37% got through, but the satisfaction level was at 80%. that means that a person who had dealt with an irs employee that like they had been treated appropriately and gotten the information they needed. i've worked for 45 years in the private sector, dealing with troubled enterprises, and in the public sector. this is as dedicated and skilled a workforce that i have ever dealt with. >> is probably too much to expect the irs to be loved. [laughter] idea think the last years have left a long-term stain, or can you recover from the controversies? commissioner koskinen: i think -- we haveome
started to recover. i hope the taxpayers and public understand we are trying our hardest. conversations -- it is corrosive to our process if taxpayers think that the system is not fair. resources,onstrained we do over one million audits.al al people have to understand, if we find something, it is not because they are democrat or republican, or a speech, or a meeting they attended. the vast majority of the $3.3 trillion is provided voluntarily, and we need to reassure the public that we take responsibility seriously. all of those 85,000 employees are dedicated to the mission of the agency, which is fair and complete administration of the irs code, the tax code of the law. i think the proof will be in the pudding. the 87% of people who got
treated properly, i hope that will ripple through the economy. saying,ill come away that they are trying hard. once in a while we might disagree, but is a fair system, and they are treating us fairly. one of the advantages of a noning tax compliance act, longer can you hide assets in switzerland -- the money we collect -- what i always thought was most important for the taxpayer to feel, rich people can no longer get away with hiding assets and not paying taxes. the system is fair, and the irs is chasing people whether rich or not, to make sure everybody pays their fair share. greta: americans also have concerns about companies going overseas to avoid paying taxes. is there something coming from the irs about that? what can you tell us? commissioner koskinen: there is a major discussion going on in the presidential campaign and in congress about the corporate tax
system. we have the highest tax rate in the world. it is a complicated system. we have a global system instead of regional. we had tax people on wherever they are and him. the changes in that system are really policy issues. they are not something the irs can be directly concerned with. we actually administer the law as it is decided by the congress. we watch with interest. we try to survive -- provide support technically. if someone wants to change elements of the code, international or not, we give them advice on how it would impact taxpayers and how easy it would be to administer. decisions about the complexity or unfairness is really the domain of the congress and the president and treasury department. our job is when they complete those discussions, to do the best job we can administering the code. greta: irs commissioner john koskinen, thank you for feeling our questions. we appreciate it commissioner koskinen:.
we aresioner koskinen: back with our reporters. richard, let me begin with you. when he had to say about donald trump's claims that he has been audited year after year. the commissioner says it is rare for that happen. this is an example of the two sides of the coin for the irs. the taxpayers and prominent people who can go out there and make all kinds of claims about what they are doing, and the commissioner by law cannot respond. if he had told us that trump is being audited or is not, or why, that could be a felony. he is really limited in what he can do. that creates this position that he taught about a little bit, that they are trying to get across, that you are only audited because of things in .our tax return they cannot actually show you the proof on that. it creates -- it has proven
difficult for the greta: bernie, donald trump feeding into that disdain people have for the irs and tax collection. mr. becker: as i said, it will not be the most popular agency around town. it is interesting, he could not comment directly about individual cases, but he did suggest it was unlikely that what donald trump is saying could be true. it would be really really unusual for one person to be audited multiple times in a row. he certainly limited in what he can say, but he was trying to get out there that this idea that they can run amok, and that if there is a personal enemy of the president or a certain religion we don't like, that we are going to go after you. he was trying as hard as he could to push back against that. greta: and he addressed the issue, donald trump saying, i am being targeted a cousin of his christian -- i am being targeted
because of christian beliefs. says you would not be under audit for that. right.ker: and there are multiple people who have to approve any audit. some say they are not tough enough on christian ion.ors who have tax exemptt the idea they are going after them for being strong christians is not an idea i have heard of the four. thing, issue we talked about is money for the irs. the irs got more money from a republican-controlled congress. how does that happen? >> i think what happened is they cannot pick -- they cannot not pay attention anymore. there is organized crime.
we saw last year, a dramatic decline in the amount of basic services the irs could offer. if you tried to call them, chances were they were not going to answer. if you did get through, you would sit on hold for 30 minutes. i think he got to the point where it was untenable. are talkingakers about how difficult it was to deal with the irs, and the only way they could deal with with -- with it was give them more money. greta: what did they do so they can protect taxpayers from cyber threats? additionaley got an $290 million, and that is directed at these key areas. they are trying to protect taxpayer information and modernize the agency, so with more computer centric and online banking, so they don't need quite as many people, which is expensive. there is still a real distrust
of the irs in congress. as much as they got the additional money, that was part of a much bigger budget deal, where there were a lot of trade-offs. the animosity is still there, much more so than three years ago. i don't know how that will end. there is not a natural point as t which it beats. it is a real and continuing risk. greta: more on that from you guys, i'm sure. thank you for being part of the conversation. appreciate it. how can we best get people to pay attention to wasteful spending? we tend to find things that are interesting, different, easy to understand. .he government is so large an organization like this has to cut through the noise and the other things going on. members of congress talking
about the wonderful things they are doing, and try to get people to be more involved. to make it a little more personal, so they understand the impact on them and their families, and children and grandchildren. >> tonight on q and a, thomas of cystatin --ts citizens against government waste, talks about his organization's efforts to bring attention to federal spending. they also publish a book compiling a list of unauthorized government programs. >> we worked with a bipartisan coalition of members of congress, which was then called the congressional port busters coalition. it eventually became the term earmarks. we went through all the appropriations bills and started the pig book. it went all the layout to $29 billion in 2006. every year that we can find