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Federal employees owe $3 billion in taxes

By Ed O'Keefe

Federal workers owed more than $3 billion in income taxes in 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service, a figure down slightly from the year before.

The agency reported that 276,300 current and retired federal employees owed $3,042,200,000 in 2008, down from $3,586,784,725 in unpaid taxes in 2007. The list includes White House and Congressional staffers and current and former active-duty and reserve members of the military.

The agency provides an updated snapshot of tax habits among current and former federal workers each year and provides copies of the list to reporters upon request. The agency does not provide similar snapshots of the total number of all American delinquent taxpayers.

RELATED: List of delinquent federal employees by department

In a sign that the IRS practices what it preaches, the Treasury Department, which includes the tax-collecting agency, had the best compliance rate of Cabinet-level departments. Less than 1 percent of employees were delinquent with their taxes.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development fared worst among Cabinet departments, with slightly more than 4 percent of workers owing a combined $4.76 million.

Among all government agencies and departments, the U.S. Postal Service had the greatest number of tax delinquents. The government's second-largest employer had 28,913 workers -- or just under 4 percent -- owing roughly $298 million.

Fifty White House staffers owed a combined $812,917 in 2008, the IRS said. Up on Capitol Hill, slightly more than 4 percent of House staffers owed Uncle Sam $5.8 million, compared to 3.2 percent of Senate employees that owed almost $2.5 million.

More than 2 percent of military reservists and national guardsman owed $198.5 million, while just less than 2 percent of active duty service members owed $102.4 million.

The tax information was first reported Monday morning by Washington's WTOP radio.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | December 14, 2009; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

I don't know what the federal government does, but last summer the Philadelphia Inquirer printed a similar report on city employees who owed back property tax. After publication, the employees were given one month to pay the back taxes owed or make binding payment arrangements; after that, the city started making deductions from their paychecks.

Posted by: vklip | December 14, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Well, they get government checks, right? Deduct it before mailing the checks.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 14, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I would be interested to know what the
delinquency rate is for all Americans???
e.g. ~ 4%
and
Whether it is more or less than Federal Employees.

Posted by: harry_consumer | December 14, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Talk about a non-story. Tax cheats are everywhere but from the headline you'd think its just government employees and in a big way. Considering there are about 15 million federal employees (actually more since this includes retirees), that averages to about $200 per employee. A lot of money I'll grant you, but what other sector of society as a rate of tax delinquincy rate that averages just $200 per person? My guess is no one cares. Just more amunition for the right wing crazies to latch onto and howl.

If you are going to write an article like this WaPo at least put it in some context. How much time would it have taken to compare fed delinquincy to say that of the nation as a whole? I swear journalism has really deteriorated as a profession. According to an article at the WTOP radio website (hardly a news site that eclipses WaPo), they note that tracking deliquincy rates nationally stopped in 2001 but continues for federal employees by agency, which explains this article with no context. Back in 2001 the national deliquincy was $345B, or over $1000 for every American, 5 times more than the $200 average for feds. Gezzz, I'm no journalist and I could have at least made a phone call or asked someone for context. Where is WaPo hiring its "journalists" these days? Or is it just hiring columnists who voice opinions?


Posted by: Fate1 | December 14, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

To say that $3 billion is owed by "federal workers" is misleading. The real number is more like $665 million from people we normally think of when we think of "federal workers".

Of the rest, $1.3 billion is from retired military, $435 million is from retired civilian workers, $200 million is from military reservists, and $100 million is from active duty military. If you also subtract the $300 million owed by postal workers (who work for a government corporation) that leaves only $665 million, or an average of $300 per worker.

Also, I'm not sure how much the IRS minds these delinquencies. They never expire, the accrue interest and penalties, and they are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Posted by: Thesmothete | December 14, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Well I'm sure most of those that probably owe are the SES and big money makers as well as those who get the big bonuses. It's never the little people. IRS goes after them aggressively first leaving the big money people to take their time paying and some never paying. IRS is quick to garnish lower paid employees monies, but not the Big guns in these agencies.

Posted by: dihcroepac | December 14, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting to note that the
US Postal Service, which is quazi public
accounts for nearly one-third or the
delinquent taxes.

$ 297 M
vs
$ 962 M

Although I didn't do a total, the various branches of the military account for a large percentage or the dollar amount.

Posted by: harry_consumer | December 14, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The fact that jumps out the strongest to me is that the military rate is so low. Many are deployed, and none are paid that much. I'm willing to bet that federal employees have a much better rate of compliance than the general population, so the military's rate of almost half the civilian workforce is even more impressive.

Posted by: will4567 | December 14, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Treasury Department employees are usually more ethical and held to a higher standard than other workers in government.

Posted by: truth1 | December 14, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Also it would be interesting to know what the Office of Personnel Management ( OPM)
numbers were.???
Since, the new massive Federal Health Care Program is slated to be put under OPM rather than Health and Human Services HHS which handles, Medicare and Medicaid.

However, since OPM reports to the Office of the President, these numbers are not published. Are they available?

Posted by: harry_consumer | December 14, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it is a "firing offense" (by law) to be delinquent on ANY taxes (Federal, state, or local) if you are employed by the IRS. Funny that Congress doesn't see fit to apply that standard to all Federal employees, including, most of all, themselves.

Posted by: ceebee2 | December 14, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

How is it federal government employees get a free pass on pay late taxes when the average American does not?

Posted by: agarnett1000 | December 14, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

agarnett1000 what makes you think federal employees get a free pass? They have to pay interest and penalties, and potentially have to face garnishment, foreclosure, property seizure and criminal prosecution, just like everyone else.

Posted by: Thesmothete | December 14, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

What is the percentage for Obama Cabinet members?

Posted by: llrllr | December 14, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I neither work for the government nor do I owe past taxes, and I fail to see the sense in picking on government workers as some sort of special class of citizens. Either do this same sort of shaming on other groups (how about industries bailed out via TARP funds?), or just cut it out all together.

Also, shame on the Post for not doing the reporting leg work of digging up some context for these figures. How does this compare to national average? And if the IRS really can't give any data on that, which the intro seems to suggest, then the lack of context needs to be far more highlighted in the piece if not grounds for dumping it all together.

This really just reads like inflammatory, yellow journalism.

Posted by: jwind | December 14, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

"What is the percentage for Obama Cabinet members?"
Posted by: llrllr

Don't know. The list is compiled from the 2008 tax year. But we do know what it was for the Bush White House in 2008:

Executive Office of the President (includes the White House): 50 employees owe $812,917;

Posted by: Fate1 | December 14, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

"I neither work for the government nor do I owe past taxes, and I fail to see the sense in picking on government workers as some sort of special class of citizens."
Posted by: jwind

They pick on them because its a report that came out and its only done for federal workers. It use to be done for others but that stopped in 2001.

You call it yellow journalism. That may be going too far, but lazy journalism definitely. No interviews with those who know what the numbers mean, just a quick scan of the data and then an inflammatory headline.

Where are the editors? Its not just the Post by the way. This has made its way to many places online. I'm waiting for Sarah Palin to make an inappropriate comment, as she usually makes when it comes to the federal government.

How Americans became such sheep ready to believe anything they are told, or even anything suggested, I have no idea. What is interesting is that 50 years ago, when most people did not have the educations people have today, there was a lot more questioning of this type of article. Maybe everyone is lazy today, journalists and readers, and some take advantage of both...

Posted by: Fate1 | December 14, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

These folks get government checks, right? Deduct what they owe before issuing the checks.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 14, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I notice there are some government mathematicians commenting here. Just like all the government math these days, it is very fuzzy and self-serving.

For those in the private sector and who were able to perhaps overcome the handicap of a private education where mathematics was just a "guess", If the amount owed by the tax cheats is divided by the number of tax cheats, the result is a bill of approximately $11,000 per tax cheat.

Posted by: Guvernor | December 14, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I find this report hard to believe as that means Postal employees would owe about $10,300 each and I would guess that would be about the amount they pay in taxes each year, so how could they owe that much for 2008 unless they have owed money for years and no one has attached their salary.

Posted by: bw437 | December 14, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

And that's only counting Geithner, Rangle, Dodd, Daschle!

Posted by: pgr88 | December 14, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

The IRS should also look at the contract employees that are employed by companies that provide services overseas for the United States government.

A large percentage of them fail to report their income to the IRS as they claim that they are exempt as they are not working inside the United States.

I know of several that worked for DOJ at a section called ICITAP that refused to pay!

Posted by: mwhoke | December 14, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Income tax compliance in the U.S. is about 84%, which is the highest in the world. That means non-compliance is 16% across the population. It appears that government employees are stellar when compared to the average taxpayer. I wonder why that information was omitted from this blog? Bloggers shouldn't be confused with real reporters of the news.

Posted by: wjssparky | December 14, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

"I notice there are some government mathematicians commenting here. Just like all the government math these days, it is very fuzzy and self-serving.

For those in the private sector and who were able to perhaps overcome the handicap of a private education where mathematics was just a "guess", If the amount owed by the tax cheats is divided by the number of tax cheats, the result is a bill of approximately $11,000 per tax cheat."

There wasn't fuzzy math, just two different statistics.
1: About $11,000 per delinquent taxpayer
2: About $200 on a per capita basis for ALL employees.

You can compare the numbers in various ways:
e.g. "Back in 2001 the national deliquincy was $345B, or over $1000 for every American," So you would compare the $1000 and $200 figures.
Looked at the other way, $345B divided by the number of "tax cheats" (i don't know what that number is) would give a higher number that you could then compare to the $11,000 figure.

I would argue that $200 v. $1000 is a more valid statistic than per-tax-cheat because looking at average numbers in the general population would include huge outliers who probably have tax bills in the millions.

Posted by: chrisny2 | December 14, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

WTF do you mean just "owe"...are they having their paychecks garnished? Are they going to jail?

Can I just quit paying my taxes and only end up on a "list"?

I'm lying like a mother focker from now on on my returns!

Posted by: Impeachbush99 | December 14, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I work for one of these agencies. (A little surprised at our delinquency rate.) Let me assure you that Uncle Sam does garnish wages of employees delinquent on taxes. Perhaps balanced reporting on what is being collected in garnishments is in order. I know folks like to bash federal employees and think we get away with so much, but trust me, most of us are just not that special (LOL). I've worked in private industry also so I feel I have a balanced perspective.

Posted by: klmarshall_md | December 14, 2009 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Why not use the new Fed Prison to house the fed infidelities.

Posted by: springco1 | December 15, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

US OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL 9 $17,627 104 8.65%

The percentage rate was highest here--which I found ironic.

Posted by: Skowronek | December 15, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

To get debts paid in general, an employee's wages can be garnisheed....the Federal government should have a very easy time collecting from these deadbeats.

As to others, a related question which was not asked is "How many people who have income do not even file a return? How many of them does the IRS know about, and avoid saying anything about because they are protesting the tax system and want to be taken to court?"

For those who want to know about the private sector, the figure is probably higher than that of the Federal government employees and retirees. I have heard figures that run as high as 8%, but not from the IRS.

Many of these people are not really cheating however. With a tax code running over 60,000 pages, with thousands of special exemptions for special interest groups, many are simple oversights, or misinterpretations. Many come from the advice given by the IRS itself. One of the deplorable things about getting advice from the IRS is that one employee can tell you something, you do it, and another employee can who is checking your taxes can invalidate the advice given, and taken in good faith, by the other employee.

We really need to scrap the entire tax, all court cases interpreting it, and go back to the original constitutional amendment on the income tax and start over again from scratch with everything thrown out except the Amendment, but then Congress couldn't get a law passed to implement the Amendment in their current disarray.

Posted by: Tawodi | December 15, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I agree, this article is very poorly written. It makes no attempt to put the story into context (feds vs general population) or explaining that this isn't just govt workers but retired military ect... Sure $3 billion is a big # but explain it!

Posted by: TrustMe2 | December 15, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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