The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
Government employees often get a bad rap. Conservative pundits like to characterize them as pampered deadwood—a waste of taxpayer dollars. The truth is that many work tirelessly under challenging conditions, earning a fraction of what they might in the private sector, to advance the public interest.
Today, one of the best is leaving government after 36 years of service. Tom Petska is retiring from the Statistics of Income (SOI) division of the IRS after 8 years as director. Tom has been a tireless advocate for good tax data and good statistical analysis. He has been a linchpin of the American Statistical Association, where he currently serves as chairman of its Committee on Professional Ethics. He has published more than 60 articles on applied statistics.
SOI is a national treasure. There, a team of statisticians, economists, and programmers produces the giant files of tax data that undergird the models Treasury and JCT use to make revenue estimates and assess the economic effects of tax policy options. SOI also produces volumes of helpful tables and analyses to help citizens, policymakers, and the press dig into the details of our complex tax system. (Those tables comprise the bulk of TPC’s popular “Tax Facts” web module.) Finally, SOI produces public use data files that are carefully scrubbed to protect the confidentiality of taxpayer information so that outside organizations like TPC can do independent analysis of tax policies.
Without SOI data, the TPC could not exist.
Directing the SOI is a challenge. The IRS is an enormous bureaucracy. Within that leviathan, SOI is kind of an orphan largely serving the interests of Treasury’s tax policy office, Congressional tax-writing committees, and the public. Protecting SOI’s resources from the rest of IRS, which sees its sole role as administering the tax laws, requires great tenacity and political (small p) skills. Meanwhile, SOI’s “customers” are insatiable in their demand for more and better data.
Tom has navigated that gauntlet astonishingly well, winning the respect and admiration of people within and outside the IRS. We at TPC thank him for his service and wish him all the best as he pursues new challenges and adventures.
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