Singer, 32, did not borrow any money from the government, skip child-support payments or violate a law that would have his wages garnished. He was swallowed by the maw of federal bureaucracy when the FAA mistakenly sent him two paychecks after he left the government.
Almost four years later, he has not crawled out.
Singer resigned in October 2009 from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, where he worked on safety regulations for the commercial space industry. He and his wife moved back to Orlando, their home town.
Meanwhile, in Washington, an FAA clerk who was on vacation during the Christmas holidays in 2009 had failed to remove Singer from the government payroll. He eventually was taken out of the system in early 2010, but not before the FAA erroneously issued him two biweekly paychecks in December 2009.
When the first paycheck landed by direct deposit in his account at USAA Federal Savings Bank, Singer mistook the money for the accrued vacation leave he was expecting. After the FAA wrote him a letter explaining that he received a paycheck in error, he reimbursed the government his net pay of $2,059.49.
The problems started with the second paycheck, which landed in his bank account when he was on vacation. The FAA wrote to him demanding reimbursement, but for his gross pay of $3,091.20. It turned out that when the second check was issued, the agency had turned over his state and federal taxes to Virginia and the Treasury Department. It was too late for the FAA to recover that money, but the agency wanted it back.
Singer was told to pay a total of $527.21 for the withheld taxes and $107.48 in health insurance payments for benefits he had elected when he worked at the FAA but dropped when he resigned.
He balked. He was happy to return his net pay to the government. But he believed it was not his fault that the FAA failed to recover what it had withheld from a paycheck it should not have issued. The money would appear on his tax return as extra income, raising his taxable income.
“I said, ‘Okay, if you’re going to ask me to repay the money, it would be nice if you sent me an amended W-2 form,’” Singer said in an interview. “The government already has this money. Why should I pay it?”
He agrees the money belongs to the government. “But I deny I owe it to them. I’m, more or less, willing to work with them and say that any money I get back is money I’ll repay you.”
He requested an amended W-2 form and said that once he received it he would file amended tax returns for 2009 with the Internal Revenue Service and Virginia. Then he would repay his “alleged” debt to the FAA, he said.
The government did not agree with his logic. In March 2010, Singer asked the FAA for a waiver from the $527.21 debt. Eighteen months later, it was denied by the agency, which cited a decision by the comptroller general: