Washington Post - by Ed O'Keefe
Congressional staffers owed about $10.6 million in unpaid taxes in 2010, a slight increase from the previous year and a growing slice of the roughly $1 billion owed by federal and postal workers nationwide.
The figures come as Republican efforts to pass legislation allowing federal agencies to fire tax delinquent federal employees have slowed and as the White House continues to crack down on improper payments made by agencies to delinquent government contractors and federal beneficiaries.
About 98,000 federal, postal and congressional employees owed $1.03 billion in unpaid taxes at the end of fiscal 2010, according to records provided by the Internal Revenue Service. The total number of delinquent employees dipped slightly from 2009, but the amount owed jumped by $32 million.
The figures are “totally unacceptable and disrespectful to hardworking American taxpayers,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “If you’re on the federal payroll, the very least you can do is pay your taxes.”
Chaffetz and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have authored bills that would force federal agencies, the U.S. Postal Service and congressional offices to fire employees who purposely avoid paying taxes. Exceptions would be made for employees suffering from family turmoil or working to correct significant financial hardship. Chaffetz’s bill was approved by a committee last spring, but Coburn’s still awaits consideration by a Senate panel.
“Nobody’s going to take any joy in firing someone,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “But there’s enough people there that are simply thumbing their nose at American taxpayers that it’s not acceptable.”
But on Capitol Hill, 684 employees, or almost 4 percent, of the 18,000 congressional staffers owed taxes in 2010 – a jump of 46 workers from 2009. Four percent of House staffers owed $8.5 million and 3 percent of Senate employees owed $2.1 million, the IRS said.
At the Executive Office of the President – encompassing 1,800 employees of the West Wing, the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council and the Office of U.S. Trade Representative, among others – 36 staffers, or 2 percent, owed a $833,970. The amount owed increased by almost $3,000 from the previous year.
Civilian employees of the Defense Department — the federal government’s largest employer — fared the worst. More than 25,600 workers at the departments of the Army, Air Force and Navy owed a combined $225.7 million, while another 4,600 civilian Pentagon employees owed $39.4 million.
Among uniformed military personnel, 2 percent of active-duty troops and 2 percent of reservists owed a combined $339 million. Three percent of the nation’s 2.1 million retired military personnel owed $1.6 billion, according to IRS records.
Delinquency rates topped 3.8 percent at the Department of Education, where 176 workers owed $4.2 million, and at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where 391 staffers owed $5 million.
At the U.S. Postal Service, 25,640 employees, or 4 percent of the 667,000-strong workforce, owed $269.6 million. Figures for USPS dipped from 2009, likely due in part to ongoing staff reductions.
More than 2,000 employees, or 3 percent, of the Social Security Administration owe $20.1 million in unpaid taxes. Five staffers at the U.S. Tax Court owed a combined $62,508 and another five at the Office of Government Ethics owed $22,160. Fewer than 1 percent of Treasury Department employees, including the IRS, owed $9.3 million, the agency said.
Just under 2 percent of the 1.8 million federal retirees tracked by the IRS owed $470 million at the end of fiscal 2010.
Overall, American taxpayers owed $114.2 billion in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties at the end of fiscal 2010, according to the IRS.
The agency has tracked tax delinquency among current and retired civilian federal and military personnel since 1993. Annual reports are compiled for agency heads, but the listings are only released publicly by lawmakers or upon request by the news media.