By Patrick Temple-West
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chief of the Internal Revenue Service will step down soon and, with no successor in sight, the IRS is likely to head into a difficult 2013 tax-filing season led by an interim boss.
That is not an ideal situation, said tax lawyers. But they gave generally high marks to the IRS official they expect to be named as the temporary head of the U.S. tax agency come mid-November.
That is when IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman's term in office will end. He plans to leave at that time as head of the 104,000-employee agency, according to an IRS spokesperson.
The Obama administration will probably then appoint Steven Miller as acting commissioner, the tax lawyers said.
Miller currently serves as IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement. Deputies have filled in as IRS commissioner in the past when no permanent replacement was promptly nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Miller, who has spent more than 20 years at the IRS, has been a deputy commissioner since September 2009. He previously headed the IRS's exempt organizations division. He also worked at the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
"The next year or two will be a particularly challenging period for the IRS," said former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, now vice chairman of alliantgroup LP, a tax consultancy for small businesses.
"It would be best to have a nominated and confirmed commissioner who has standing within the administration and with the Congress," Everson added.
Former IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg, a partner at law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, said, "Steve Miller is eminently qualified to take over on an acting basis."
Miller did not respond to requests for comment.
The Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, declined to comment about potential successors to Shulman, a Democrat appointed to the post under Republican President George W. Bush.
The 2013 tax-filing season is going to be complicated by the "fiscal cliff" facing Congress. At the end of the year, unless lawmakers act very soon, ordinary income and investment income tax rates will go up because deep cuts made under Bush and extended by President Barack Obama will expire.
At the same time, Congress has failed to deal with a host of other urgent tax issues such as extending temporary tax provisions and constraining the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Shulman has focused on fighting offshore tax evasion and starting a program to make tax return preparers better trained and more accountable, among other initiatives.
His legacy may be decided by Obama's 2010 healthcare law, according to Ken Kies, a Republican tax lobbyist. The IRS will play a key role in the law, including a new tax for individuals who fail to obtain medical insurance starting in 2014.
The law is considered Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. It was passed by Congress despite unified opposition from Republicans. Shulman has defended the law before Republican lawmakers.
The naming of a permanent replacement for Shulman will hinge on the outcome of the November 6 presidential election between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Americans normally must file their tax returns by April 15 each year. That is less than seven months away. Many major tax questions remain unanswered, with the IRS under growing pressure to print tax return forms, train and assign staff and keep taxpayers informed about what is happening with tax law.
Before Shulman was confirmed by the Senate in March 2008, the IRS was led by two acting commissioners over a transition period of more than nine months. The previous Senate-confirmed commissioner was Everson, who stepped down in May 2007.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)