Thousands of federal employees and contractors approved for security clearances between 2006 and 2012 owed $85 million in back taxes, according to a report released Thursday by Congress’s nonpartisan investigative wing.

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg) (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

The Government Accountability Office found that about half of the 8,400 individuals with unpaid tax bills had not worked out a repayment plan with the Internal Revenue Service. The debts owed ranged from $100 to more than $2 million, with the median at $3,800.

The individuals owing taxes between 2006 and 2012 represent about 3.4 percent of all government employees and contractors approved for clearances during that time frame. About 4,700 — slightly more than half of them — were federal employees, while the remainder were contractors, the report said.

Overall, nearly 5 million civilian and military employees held security clearances as of October 2012, according to the GAO.

The GAO suggested that the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management should determine the feasibility of obtaining debt information from the Treasury Department before issuing decisions on security clearances. Those agencies have agreed with the recommendations, according to the report.

Leading Senate Republicans seized on the findings Thursday to call for stricter tax enforcement and increased background checks for federal employees and contractors who hold security clearances.

“Federal tax cheats with security clearances are double threats that jeopardize both our national and economic security,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement. “It is imperative the administration and Congress quickly take action to eliminate this egregious and preventable practice.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, added: “There are too many bad actors who don’t disclose having a tax debt exposing themselves to bribery and blackmail.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, called on lawmakers to approve a bill she introduced this week with a bipartisan group of female senators to increase the frequency of follow-up screenings for individuals who hold security clearances.

The other lawmakers backing that bill included Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Heidi Heitcamp (D-N.D.).

Security clearances have become a major issue on Capitol Hill after the leaks last summer by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and the deadly shooting rampage by a civilian defense employee at the Washington Navy Yard in September.

The Justice Department on Wednesday accused the largest private firm that conducts federal background checks of failing to review quality controls in its screenings of potential government workers.

Contractor failed to review security background checks, Justice claims

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