Mark Everson, who forged a reputation for bolstering enforcement policies during his four-year tenure as commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, will need to import that tough posture as the new president and chief executive of the American Red Cross.Everson, 52, was named to helm the disaster relief agency last month. When he officially assumes his new post on May 29, he will be at the helm of an organization that over the past several years has been beset by a series of high-level resignations, messy internal politics and a hail of criticism for its glacial response to Hurricane Katrina.
Everson, who succeeded Charles Rossotti at the IRS, focused his attention on enhancing the agency's enforcement activities, including, most notably, a nationwide crackdown on abusive tax shelters and non-compliance, while also boosting the number of field auditors.
More recently, he and his office had heard increased clamoring from Congress over how the agency and the Treasury Department should best work to address the nation's growing tax gap - estimated at $345 billion for the 2001 tax year.
"I look back over the last four years with great pride and satisfaction," said Everson in an e-mail to employees announcing his plans to leave. "Together, we have rebalanced the organization, bringing to life the equation: Service + Enforcement = Compliance."
A TOUGH LEGACY
Tom Ochsenschlager, the vice president of taxation for the American Institute of CPAs, said that Everson should be remembered as a commissioner who guided the IRS through some of its most difficult times. "[He took] office when tax shelters, electronic filing goals and the changing demographics of the workforce made the position particularly challenging," said Ochsenschlager. "That he was able to maintain a balance between enforcement and taxpayer service during this turbulent time is truly remarkable."
David Lifson, a partner at the New York firm of Hayes & Co. and the 2007-2008 president of the New York State Society of CPAs, said that Everson and his predecessor Rossotti were valuable polar opposites. "Rossotti had to restore a customer-service attitude for willingly compliant taxpayers, and Everson's job was to round up non-compliants," he said. "Both are important, but each focused on two different audiences. One was the 85 percent who paid willingly, and the other focused on the 15 percent who didn't."
At press time, the IRS had not yet named an interim commissioner.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that Everson should get good marks for his leadership in reforming the tax-exempt community in recent years. "Since [Everson's] had to manage with tight resources, I hope he'll also be good at extracting the maximum value from every Red Cross donation," said Grassley, in a statement. "His sense of accountability, his energy and his respect for institutions while being reform-minded are all attributes the Red Cross needs. The institution gathered some moss over the years, but it's working to change. It needs a leader to guide that change. Mark Everson is a good choice."
The director of the national tax office at CBiz Accounting, Tax & Advisory Services, Bill Smith, said that Everson leaves the legacy of an agency that has cracked down on high-profile tax shelters, increased the level of audit activity and begun the outsourcing of collections. "Everson has changed the tax landscape by shifting the burden of enforcement from the taxpayer to the tax advisor more so than previous administrations," he said. "While this has improved compliance, it has also made life much harder for the tax professional and damaged the relationship between the IRS and the tax community. Whether the next commissioner chooses to stay the course laid out by Everson, they should also focus on repairing that relationship."
At the Red Cross, Everson will take the reins from interim president Jack McGuire, who will stay on in the position of executive vice president for biomedical services.
But in his new role, Everson faces a far more challenging task, as the Red Cross has been without a permanent head since December 2005, when president Marsha Evans resigned. Several years before, then-CEO Bernadine Healy exited after the agency came under fire for its inability to explain what it was doing with funds raised following the September 11 attacks.
Meanwhile, Congress is poised to vote on legislation that would slash the organization's 50-member board and lessen the influence of presidentially appointed overseers. Last year, the Red Cross assisted victims of 72,883 disasters.
Prior to joining the IRS, Everson served as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, acting as the president's chief management officer, and, before that, joined the Bush administration in August 2001 to serve as controller at the Office of Federal Financial Management. He also served as a vice president of Dallas-based SC International Services Inc., a $2.2 billion food services company, and was an executive with the French industrial business Pechiney Group. He began his career with Arthur Andersen & Co. in New York.
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