Whether we like it or not, the law requires that we pay taxes. Unfortunately, a significant number of federal workers have failed to do so and are responsible for $1 billion in unpaid taxes. Those charged with the stewardship of our federal resources and programs should not be among the most delinquent taxpayers.
Civil service and contract positions in the federal government are highly sought after. There is a reason federal government jobs turn over at half the rate of private sector positions. Is it too much to ask that the beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse stay current on their taxes and uphold their civic responsibility?
This week the House of Representatives will consider two bills to hold federal employees and federal contractors accountable for their tax delinquent status. The bills provide that individuals with "seriously delinquent tax debts" would be ineligible for federal employment or federal contracts. Those who are in the process of making a good faith effort to fulfill their tax obligations will not be affected by the legislation.
Among the millions of competent, diligent, and patriotic federal employees are a handful of bad apples whose actions reflect poorly on the entire workforce. The recently IRS’s 2014 tax delinquency report identified nearly 100,000 federal employees who haven’t paid their taxes, resulting in a loss of more than $1 billion to the federal treasury.
Even more troubling is the growth of the problem. In the last ten years, the dollar amount of past-due taxes owed by federal government employees has nearly doubled. Meanwhile, bonuses have flowed freely. From October 2010 to December 2012, 2800 federal employees who had disciplinary issues received more than $2.8 million in bonuses. Of those, more than 1,100 did not pay their own taxes and were still awarded with over $1 million in bonuses. It’s clear that consequences for tax delinquency are needed.
Is the threat of termination sufficient to change behavior? The IRS report may provide enough evidence to suggest that it is. The IRS employees are expected to be tax compliant. IRS employees may be fired for willful failure to timely file their return or willfully understate their tax liability. Consequently, the IRS has the lowest delinquency rate of any agency at 1.19%.
In addition to tax delinquency rates in the federal workforce, we also have a problem among federal contractors. A July 2014 GAO Report indicated federal contractors in the Department of Defense alone owe more than $350 million in back taxes. Given that the federal government spends more on contract employees than on public employees, this is a significant problem.
Federal contract work is a competitive business. Why should those with seriously delinquent tax debt have the opportunity to bid on this lucrative work? The integrity of our workforce must be a priority. Especially considering that 25% of DOD employees and contractors – 26,000 people - actually have a top secret security clearance.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve in the federal workforce and it is disheartening that so many federal workers are behind on taxes. These employees are not exempt from their civic responsibility to fulfill tax obligations and those who refuse to pay what they owe should be held accountable.
Americans across the country work hard to fulfill their civic responsibility to pay their taxes on time. Federal workers should not be exempt. Steps must be taken to ensure that those who are delinquent satisfy their tax obligations. If they refuse to do so, they should be held accountable.
Republican Jason Chaffetz represents Utah's 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.