By LARRY MARGASAK
WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill to fire federal workers who are tax deadbeats passed the House on Tuesday in an attempt to confront a problem that showed little improvement in the past decade.
The bill is aimed at U.S. government workers who are seriously delinquent in their federal taxes, but would exempt those trying to work out their problems with the IRS.
The vote was 263-116 to send the bill to the Senate where its fate was uncertain.
Chief sponsor Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said there were 102,794 federal employees who were delinquent with their federal taxes 2004 and only a slight drop to 98,291 in 2010 — including some 700 congressional employees.
The cost to taxpayers rose from just under $600 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion by 2010, he added.
The bill would make those who are seriously delinquent ineligible for federal employment, whether they're working for the government now or are applying for a job. Applicants would have to certify that they were not seriously delinquent and agencies would conduct periodic reviews of public records for tax liens.
Chaffetz said the bill would apply to "people who are just totally ignoring the law and ... not living up to their obligation, not paying their federal taxes, There ought to be more of a consequence." He added, "We're not trying to cut somebody off at the knees if they're trying to do the right thing."
Chaffetz cited an IRS report that among the delinquent federal employees were 1,181 employees at the Treasury Department, 91 workers at the Federal Reserve, and nearly 6.5 percent of the employees at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics — which enforces ethics laws, but yet had the worst compliance rate among federal agencies.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the bill was unnecessary, because the IRS can levy penalties of up to 15 percent of wages until the tax debt is satisfied.
"I'm not certain that this bill will have any significant impact whatsoever," she said. Maloney added that more than 96 percent of federal workers paid their taxes on time did not owe money to the government.
Chaffetz disagreed, commenting, "I wish there wasn't a need for this. But this is $1 billion in uncollected taxes." He said the delinquent taxpayers are tarnishing the rest of the federal workforce.