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Senator praises Clinton's nomination of technology executive to head the IRS

Selection of a technology executive to head the IRS "breaks the mold of former IRS commissioners" and promises to deliver long-lasting reform of the agency, a key senator said Thursday.

Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth Jr., R-Del., predicted President Clinton's pick to head the Internal Revenue Service, Charles O. Rossotti, would win Senate approval if he shows "a powerful and undiluted commitment to reform.""Your background is uniquely suited to the task," Roth said.

Rossotti said in his opening testimony that he hesitated to accept Clinton's nomination.

"I did not accept quickly," he said. "But, I do believe in public service and after some reflection, I concluded that at the IRS I might have a special opportunity to improve the work of an agency that directly affects a great many people. The IRS must do a far better job of serving taxpayers."'

Rossotti is chairman of American Management Systems Inc., based in Fairfax, Va. He was picked as someone whose business management and computer experience could turn around a troubled IRS.

The company does a sizable business with the federal government, with two contracts with the Department of the Treasury and two with the IRS.

On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a package of major changes that would expand taxpayer rights and create an 11-member board, mostly of private citizens, to oversee the IRS and improve management.

The focus on restructuring the IRS came after the agency mishandled a $3.3 billion computer upgrade and saw a decline in customer service, such as providing erroneous answers on its telephone help lines.

The effort gained high visibility after the Senate Finance Committee last month held three days of oversight hearings at which taxpayers tearfully described being hounded into paying taxes they didn't owe. The hearings galvanized political support for revamping the IRS, leading the Clinton administration to reverse course and support the House bill.

That changed political support led the Ways and Means Committee to approve the restructuring bill by a 33-4 margin. A vote in the House is expected soon.

"This is the beginning, not the end, of a tax system more accommodating to taxpayers," said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of committee.