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By Patrick Temple-West
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Friday voted to confirm John Koskinen as the new head of the Internal Revenue Service, giving the beleaguered tax agency its fourth chief in little more than a year.
A 74-year-old lawyer with little tax experience, Koskinen was nominated in August by President Barack Obama. He was approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate in a 59-36 vote.
He is expected to take over in January. That is when the IRS, still recovering from its worst crisis in years, will start processing its annual crush of about 240 million tax returns, as well as carrying out key parts of Obama's new healthcare law.
He will replace IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel, tapped by Obama to temporarily manage the IRS through a crisis involving scrutiny of conservative political groups that shook its top ranks and hurt its reputation.
In May, a senior IRS executive made an unexpected public apology at a legal conference for what she described as improper scrutiny by the agency of conservative political groups.
The apology set off weeks of investigation and controversy, culminating in findings that Tea Party-linked political groups applying for tax-exempt status had been subjected to extra review and delay by employees at an IRS Cincinnati field office.
Republican lawmakers attacked the administration over this, accusing the agency of political bias. Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller resigned and was replaced by Werfel.
But Republican efforts to link the White House to the scandal failed and, as it emerged that some liberal groups had also gotten extra scrutiny, the crisis had fizzled by August, though investigations have not been formally ended.
At Koskinen's confirmation hearing last week, senators called on him to restore the IRS' political impartiality.
"The IRS has done a lot to lose the trust of the American people. It will need to do a lot more to regain it," said Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement.
McConnell was among senators who voted against Koskinen under a new procedure adopted by the Senate in November that reduced Republicans' ability to block Obama's nominees.
Koskinen is a Democrat who stepped in to run mortgage giant Freddie Mac five years ago when it was engulfed by the credit crisis. He is a multimillionaire philanthropist who spent 21 years at Palmieri Co., a management firm that restructures large companies, working his way up to CEO. (Reporting by Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Chizu Nomiyama)