Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, seems to be diverging from Republican orthodoxy in one extremely unlikely way: He thinks the Internal Revenue Service needs a bigger staff.
Mnuchin raised the issue, more or less unprompted, during his confirmation hearings Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee. After the panel’s chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), asked him about whether he was committed to simplifying the tax code, Mnuchin assured him he “agree[d] with you completely” on that issue.
But he then appeared to catch some senators on the panel off guard when he said he was “particularly surprised…that the IRS head count has gone down quite dramatically, almost 30% over a number of years,” adding, “especially for an agency that collects revenue, this is something I’m concerned about.” Mnuchin, who would oversee the staff of the IRS if confirmed as Treasury secretary, also said that he was “concerned about the lack of first-rate technology” and the erosion of customer-service at the tax-collecting agency.
It’s an issue where Mnuchin seems to differ from most GOP legislators, who generally portray the IRS as bloated and overly aggressive (and, in some cases, have sworn to abolish it). As Fortune‘s Jen Wieczner reported last fall, the agency has undergone at least five consecutive years of budget cuts and shed at least 12,000 jobs since the GOP won control of Congress in 2010.
Those declines have coincided with a raft of cybersecurity problems and increases in customer wait times and customer complaints. They’ve also slowed down the pace of tax audits, according to tax experts, including (presumably) the audit that President-elect Donald Trump has said is currently underway into his own taxes.
The exchange did set up Hatch, the veteran bull on the committee, for a softball rejoinder a few minutes later in the hearing. “So you want to help us modernize the IRS?” he asked, rhetorically. “Well, that’d be a wonderful thing.”