To try to reduce the $44.3 billion in delinquent loans, unpaid taxes and defaulted contracts owed the government, the Office of Management and Budget is planning to hire a credit-reporting firm to help screen new loan applicants and contractors.
"For decades the federal government has been doing billions of dollars of credit business with one hand tied behind its back," said Deputy OMB Director Joseph R. Wright Jr. "Not being allowed to screen applicants thoroughly contributed to a delinquency rate of crisis proportions."
The OMB will require agencies to check with the firm before they make a loan or let a contract. The firm will be chosen later this fall.
Wright said that while officials are "following their rules, they are not following good credit-management rules."
Persons or firms who have bad credit records with the federal government would be screened more carefully; agencies would be required to share the information they receive about a debtor with the agencies that are trying to collect his overdue loans.
From June, 1981, to June, 1982, debts that were at least 30 days overdue grew by what Wright called "an astronomical" 41 percent. Since then, he said, the OMB's efforts have reduced the growth rate of delinquencies to virtually zero.
The credit-reporting firm will receive the names of about 1 million debtors.
Wright acknowledged that the change took more than two years to implement because Congress had to approve legislation so that information about individuals with outstanding debts could be exchanged. Tax, Social Security or tariff-related debts will be exempt from the reporting system.