More than 80,000 Defense Department employees and contractors with security clearances owed $730 million in unpaid federal taxes as of June 2012, according to Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog agency.
The Government Accountability Office released a report on Monday that said about 31 percent of the tax-delinquent workers already owed money to the government when they were issued security clearances.
“DOD officials stated that individuals having access to classified information pose a greater risk because they have more opportunity to actually compromise classified information than a person who is only eligible to access classified information,” the report said.
The GAO found that about 26,000 of the tax-delinquent employees and contractor had access to classified information. About 54 percent of the workers owing taxes were federal employees rather than contractors.
“Giving security clearances to individuals who fail to follow the law is unwise and risky,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a frequent critic of federal employees who owe taxes. “Federal tax cheats with security clearances jeopardize both our national and economic security, and could unnecessarily put our nation’s classified information at risk.”
Among all the workers who owed taxes, 40 percent had a repayment plan with the Internal Revenue Service, the report said.
The GAO noted that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Treasury Department and the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees federal background checks, are exploring options for detecting whether applicants owe taxes. However, U.S. code prevents the IRS from disclosing private taxpayer information to other agencies, meaning an exception would be needed for workers seeking security clearances.
The Defense Department is not alone among federal agencies in employing tax-delinquent workers. In April, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report saying the IRS doled out more than $1 million in bonuses for about 1,100 employees with federal tax-compliance problems.
IRS data shows that about 3.2 percent of the federal government’s civilian employees owed back-taxes in 2013. The rate among the general public that year was significantly higher, with 8.7 percent of American taxpayers being delinquent.