While our presidential candidates grandly speak of transforming America, I have a more prosaic question: Who will pay attention to the small stuff? No, not silly small stuff, such as President Jimmy Carter fussing over the White House tennis court schedule, but stuff like … collecting a billion dollars in unpaid federal taxes owed by federal employees – and firing the ones who don’t pay.
Amazingly, you can take Uncle Sam’s bread and cheat him too, except if you for the Internal Revenue Service, of course. I’ve known people who’ve worked for the IRS. The agency is very upfront with its prospective hires; getting audited is part of employment deal, and getting dismissed is the result if the employee owes back taxes.
You might ask why the IRS employment rules don’t apply to the rest of the civil service. That’s because the civil service employment law doesn’t include non-payment of taxes in its teeny list of things that will get a federal worker fired. Fortunately, over 95 percent of federal employees pay their taxes, but with a workforce in the millions, even a small percentage of delinquents translates into a lot of money not being collected.
Last year, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 828, which not only makes having a “serious delinquent tax debt” a cause for dismissal from the federal service, but a disqualification from getting hired in the first place. Although the bill has been reported out by Congressman Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Reform, it has not made it to the House floor for a vote yet. (Speaker Boehner, are you listening?) A companion bill (S. 376) was introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), but, alas, it’s been ignored.
Why? One excuse is that the Joint Committee on Taxation determined that H.R. 828 would have a “negligible impact” on revenue. Only in D.C. is a billion dollars negligible, chump change. Note how the benefits of future increased tax compliance don’t figure into the equation either.
I also think there is something socially positive about setting a higher standard for government employees. If we as citizens are to respect our government, it would help us to know that its employees are paying their taxes too. Just because the Joint Committee on Taxation can’t put a price on respect, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
Over at the White House, there may be ways for President Obama to increase tax compliance among feds, but since taking action would rile his friends at the employee unions, don’t expect him to do anything about it.
Elected officials wonder why the American people do not trust their government. Their inaction on federal tax cheats is one reason. How can we be expected to make that leap of faith on big issues, like retirement, if solons in D.C. can’t get the small stuff right?