WASHINGTON — Attention, federal workers: Pay your taxes or lose your job.
That was the message sent Tuesday by the House, which approved the Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act, aimed at 98,000 federal workers who collectively owed Uncle Sam about $1 billion in 2010.
The measure, sent to the Senate on 263–114 vote, would make anyone "seriously delinquent" on their taxes -- that is, with a debt for which a public lien notice has been filed -- ineligible for federal employment. Prospects for Senate action are uncertain.
"Employees who consciously ignore the channels and processes in place to fulfill their tax obligations must be held accountable,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the bill’s chief sponsor. “In short, if you refuse to pay your federal taxes, you should be fired.”
Opponents contend that the bill perpetuates a negative view of the federal workforce, noting that the tax compliance rate in the federal community is much higher than in the general public.
The measure comes after an IRS report this year showed that roughly 3% of the federal civilian and Postal Service workforce owed about $1 billion in 2010, including 684 congressional staffers who owed more than $10 million.
That 2010 tax debt had increased from about $600 million in 2004. When retirees and military personnel were included, nearly 280,000 people owed $3.4 billion in 2010, according to the report.
The legislation exempts employees who enter installment agreements to pay off their tax debts, Chaffetz said. "If a federal employee is trying to do the right thing and pay their back taxes, they will remain an employee of the federal government," he said.