Over a Quarter Million Federal Workers Don't Pay Taxes
Date:  7/15/2001

Over a quarter-million federal workers fail to pay taxes


Scripps Howard News Service

June 15, 2001

WASHINGTON - IRS records show that 340,000 federal government employees or retirees getting government pensions last year owed a total of $2.5 billion in unpaid taxes.

That number includes 2,975 federal workers who were employed by the IRS itself, which operates under a 1998 law that says IRS employees can be reprimanded if they are found making an intentional error that results in underpayment of taxes, or fired if they are found to be negligent in paying their taxes.

All federal employees are currently covered by ethics laws, adopted in 1992, that require them to pay their taxes as a condition of their continued employment.

"Employees shall satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those such as federal, state or local taxes that are imposed by law," the regulations state.

A review of IRS records, conducted by the congressional General Accounting Office this year, found that the rate of noncompliance among more than 8 million federal employees and retirees was about 5 percent. There was a 7 percent noncompliance rate among the general public. The IRS estimates the total of unpaid taxes is $240 billion.

Jeffrey Steinhoff, managing director for the GAO's financial management staff, noted there are more stringent requirements for federal employees than for the general public.

"If the general public perceives that federal workers and annuitants can successfully evade their tax obligations, voluntary compliance - the foundation of the U.S. tax system - could be eroded," he said.

The GAO said the lack of any regular federal withholding of income taxes on federal retirement checks seems to be the reason that 20 percent of federal retirees failed to file. The retirees accounted for 54 percent of the total number of tax delinquents among federal employees.

Among the findings:

- 36 percent of the cases were delinquent for more than one year.

- 29 percent of the cases involved $1.4 billion in uncollected taxes assessed before 1995.

- About 2,300 government employees or retirees had been found willfully responsible for failing to pay the proper amount of taxes, resulting in a > >>total of $155 million in IRS penalty assessments. One of these cases involved a federal retiree who failed to send in withholding taxes collected from employees of two businesses he ran.

Rep. Jim Turner, R-Texas, who requested the report, said while the federal tax evasion rate is lower than the general public, it's not low enough.

"These are the same people that are getting monthly paychecks from the government, and yet they have managed to skip out on their taxes. A private business would never stand for this, and the government needs to strive for that same efficiency," he said."

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said his agency last year streamlined the accounting procedures for federal employees, and is looking at new educational programs to reduce tax delinquency rates among federal employees.

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