Leadership and the Transformation of a Major Institution: Charles Rossotti and the Internal Revenue Service


Hal G. Rainey is Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. His research concentrates on organizations and management in government with an emphasis on performance, change, leadership, incentives, privatization, and comparisons of governmental management to management in the business and nonprofit sectors. The third edition of his book Understanding and Managing Public Organizations was published in 2003. He was recently elected a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. E-mail: hgrainey@uga.edu.

James R. Thompson is an associate professor in the Graduate Program in Public Administration at the University of Illinois–Chicago, where he teaches courses in public personnel management, information technology, and public management. Before earning his doctorate, he worked in local government in New York state at the city and county levels. His research focuses on organizational change and bureaucratic reform in the public sector and the modernization of human resource management practices in government. He and Dr. Rainey are currently working on a book on the modernization of the IRS. E-mail: jthomp@uic.edu.


Charles Rossotti took the helm at the Internal Revenue Service in 1997 amid complaints of abuse of both IRS workers and taxpayers. Did he succeed at improving the agency’s image without sacrificing its principal mission to enforce the tax code fairly and effectively? This retrospective on Rossotti’s five-year tenure suggests that he, his leadership team, and teams of IRS employees managed effective changes that substantially improved services to taxpayers and the administration of a beleaguered revenue-collection system. His leadership offers valuable lessons and insights for administrators in all settings. Are there invaluable lessons that public administrators might learn from Rossotti’s management strategy?