WASHINGTON — The Senate voted on Thursday to confirm Daniel Werfel to be the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, filling a critical position at the agency as it starts an $80 billion overhaul to modernize its technology and bolster its ability to crack down on tax cheats.
Mr. Werfel was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 42 and won the support of six Republicans despite deep skepticism among conservatives of the I.R.S.
The confirmation comes at a pivotal moment of transition for the agency, which has struggled to perform its most basic responsibilities, including processing tax returns and answering taxpayer calls. The Biden administration has promised that the $80 billion infusion will help improve customer service and ensure that taxpayers pay what they owe but will not result in more audits of those earning less than $400,000.
The I.R.S. has come under intense scrutiny, particularly from Republicans, who have tried to claw back the $80 billion and warned that plans to hire 87,000 agents and other staff will mean more audits for small businesses and middle-income Americans. How Mr. Werfel deploys that money, which was included in the Inflation Reduction Act, will be of particular interest to lawmakers from both parties.
The agency was supposed to submit a plan for how the money will be spent to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen last month, but that has been delayed. It is not clear when the blueprint will be released.
Mr. Werfel’s support among Democrats was not unanimous on Wednesday. Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said in a statement that while he believed that Mr. Werfel was fit for the job, he did not believe that the Treasury Department would give him the authority to abide by the law. The senator pointed to the Treasury Department’s role in carrying out the Inflation Reduction Act and claimed that it had “pandered” to automakers and progressive groups.
“I have zero faith he will be given the autonomy to perform the job in accordance with the law and for that reason, I cannot support his nomination,” Mr. Manchin said.
President Barack Obama tapped Mr. Werfel in 2013 to temporarily lead the I.R.S. after a scandal over its targeting of conservative groups led to the firing of another interim commissioner, Steven T. Miller.
Mr. Werfel previously was the controller of the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration, serving as its point person on across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration and making sure government agencies adhered to the law. Before that, he helped carry out the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Mr. Obama’s stimulus legislation in 2009. Mr. Werfel also worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, helping to oversee compliance with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 in the Office of Financial Stability.
At his confirmation hearing last month, Mr. Werfel said he believed that the I.R.S. needed to become a modern and high-performing agency after years of neglect.
“I have been concerned about gaps in capacity that have impeded the I.R.S.’s ability to meet its critical mission,” he said. “The result is that hardworking, honest taxpayers who need assistance in meeting their tax obligations are not getting the service they need.”