WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Internal Revenue Service promised independent leadership of the U.S. tax-collecting agency on Thursday, but drew a senator’s criticism for not disclosing business ties to a Trump-branded hotel in Hawaii.
Charles Rettig, a Beverly Hills, California, tax lawyer, will be tasked with implementing Trump’s sweeping new tax law if confirmed by the Senate as commissioner of the IRS, an agency already beset by technology and customer service problems.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Rettig assured lawmakers that he had not pledged loyalty to Trump.
“I would hope that the members of this committee and the American taxpayers see me as staunchly independent, or more so,” Rettig told the panel, which oversees tax policy.
According to a committee memo seen by Reuters, Rettig failed to notify Senate Finance staff that two condominiums he co-owns in Honolulu are located in the Trump International Hotel and Tower.
Trump does not own the hotel, which bears his name. But the president receives management and licensing fees from the property, said a Senate Democratic aide.
“Disclosing that information may not have been required by law. My view is, it would have been a smart exercise of judgment,” Senator Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat, told Rettig during the hearing. “If you want to eliminate any questions about appearances, you can sell the properties off.”
Senator Orrin Hatch, the panel’s Republican chairman, dismissed the issue as “silly,” adding: “The dispute here pertains to the additional details of noting the name on the side of the building.”
Rettig promised impartiality when asked about Vice President Mike Pence’s statement that the administration would disregard a tax law prohibiting nonprofit groups such as churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
Despite Democratic qualms, he appears likely to win confirmation in a Senate controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Trump’s deficit-financed tax overhaul, rushed into law in December, awarded $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to businesses and individuals over the next decade. The IRS and U.S. Treasury must write regulations to clarify some complex provisions baffling individuals and businesses.
Trump promised to simplify the tax code, but Democratic lawmakers on Thursday said a new IRS tax form for individuals was complicated and included as many as six additional forms, after the New York Times reviewed a draft of the document.
Nina Olson, the U.S. taxpayer advocate charged with helping taxpayers on IRS issues, told Congress in a report on Wednesday that the new law required the agency to train employees on the new form, while programming 140 systems, writing or revising 450 other forms and publications and issuing guidance on dozens of provisions.
“It’s a heavy lift,” Olson’s report said.
Rettig said his top priorities would include upgrading IRS technology and customer service systems and ensuring the agency had adequate funding and workforce levels.
He faces a monumental challenge of his own. Rettig disclosed to lawmakers that he has never managed a staff larger than 35 people. The IRS has nearly 77,000 employees.
Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Howard Goller