The Washington Post

Who is IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel?

During a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Obama called for an investigation into the IRS, saying, “We’ve got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously.” (Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)

President Obama tapped Daniel Werfel on Thursday to serve as the new acting administrator of the scandal-plagued Internal Revenue Service, succeeding Steven T. Miller, who resigned under pressure Wednesday.

“Throughout his career working in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Danny has proven an effective leader who serves with professionalism, integrity and skill,” Obama said in a statement. “The American people deserve to have the utmost confidence and trust in their government, and as we work to get to the bottom of what happened and restore confidence in the IRS, Danny has the experience and management ability necessary to lead the agency at this important time.”

Werfel, 42, rose through the ranks at the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department as a budget analyst and lawyer before Obama tapped him to serve as OMB controller in 2009. As controller he was responsible for the government’s financial management, contracting, information technology and personnel policy.

Now he has the unenviable task of overhauling the IRS, which is reeling after admitting that employees aggressively targeted certain groups applying for tax-exempt status. Werfel will serve as acting director through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, the White House said.

Werfel may be well liked by colleagues at the OMB and the White House, but some lawmakers seemed skeptical or said they didn’t know much about him.

“Placing a White House insider in charge of an agency whose leadership willfully misled Congress and targeted American people for exercising free speech does absolutely nothing to restore the public’s confidence in Washington,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said in a statement.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he wasn’t familiar with Werfel.

“If I was the president I would find the very best businessman I possibly could who’d be willing to take it over and have the authority to be able to straighten the mess out,” Hatch said. “I don’t know whether Werfel has that kind of dimension or not, but I hope he does.”

Joshua Bolten, who served as OMB chief and White House chief of staff for George W. Bush, said Werfel has a reputation as a nonpartisan problem-solver.

“He’s completely a career guy, and somebody who had an excellent reputation which I came to understand he deserved,” Bolten said.

“I think he’s a smart choice because the IRS is clearly an agency that has been badly mismanaged, with the insertion of extremely inappropriate political considerations and gone badly awry,” Bolten said. “He’s a guy who is a nonpartisan professional who has dealt with tough management situations and should rapidly earn the respect of career folks there.”

Bolten said he was surprised to receive a call Thursday from Werfel, whom he hadn’t heard from in years. “I asked him how he was doing, and he said, ‘I’ve had easier days.’ ”

Werfel had called to ask whether Bolten could serve as a reference in case anyone from the Obama administration wanted to know about his time at the OMB.

Werfel did not respond to an e-mail or a call seeking comment.

Werfel moved to Washington after earning degrees from Cornell University, Duke University and a law degree from the University of North Carolina. He worked at the OMB before serving briefly as a career attorney at the Justice Department. He returned to the OMB when it was run by Jack Lew, now Treasury secretary.

As controller, Werfel worked with Lew and other top OMB officials to execute the White House’s “Campaign to Cut Waste,” a plan that included stopping hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments to fraudulent government contractors and beneficiaries, overseeing more than a $2 billion reduction in government travel costs, creating plans to slash the federal government’s real estate portfolio and renegotiating several multimillion-dollar IT contracts at federal agencies.

Ron Klain, a veteran Democratic strategist who served as Vice President Biden’s chief of staff in the early days of the Obama administration, recalled how Werfel worked to establish, a federal Web site that tracked how billions of dollars were being distributed as part of the 2009 economic stimulus program.

“We did something that had never been done. In real time all the money we spent was put on a Web site and you could track where the money was being spent every 90 days,” Klain said. “Danny played a key role in dealing with the complex issues on that. There just wasn’t a problem he couldn’t solve.”

Max Stier, president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which has worked closely with Werfel in recent years, said Werfel will need to restore the public’s trust while also finding ways to “regenerate motivation and morale at the IRS itself.”

“There are very few people who have had to deal with the aftermath of a crisis like what happened at the IRS,” Stier said. “This will be a challenge. A very big challenge.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
We'll have half a million voters in South Carolina. I can shake a lot of hands, but I can't shake that many.
Sen. Marco Rubio, speaking to a group of reporters about his strategy to regain support after a poor performance in the last debate
Fact Checker
Sanders’s claim that Clinton objected to meeting with ‘our enemies’
Sanders said that Clinton was critical of Obama in 2008 for suggesting meeting with Iran. In fact, Clinton and Obama differed over whether to set preconditions, not about meeting with enemies. Once in office, Obama followed the course suggested by Clinton, abandoning an earlier position as unrealistic.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.