Some 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors remain eligible for security clearances despite owing an aggregate of $730 million in unpaid taxes, the Government Accountability Office reported.
The employees -- who either retain or are deemed qualified for secret, top secret or interim security clearances -- owe anywhere from $100 to millions of dollars per taxpayer, with a median of $2,700 in debt, auditors said in a report released Monday.
Some 5.1 million federal employees or contractors have security clearances; GAO surveyed 3.2 million who received them from 2006 through 2011.
About half of the 83,000 delinquents are federal employees, the report found, which accounts for $363 million, or about half of the outstanding tax debt. About 40 percent of the total individuals have entered a repayment plan with the Internal Revenue Service, which, upon completion, would bring a cumulative $262 million to the Treasury.
About 25 percent of the individuals with tax debt were eligible for a top-secret clearance. GAO was not able to determine how many security clearances had been denied because of tax delinquency.
Last month, a working group with officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of Personnel Management and the IRS told GAO it had studied the prospects for having agencies pursuing background checks on employees routinely gain access to information on federal tax debts. But IRS said such access would violate the privacy protections in Section 6103 of the tax code.
The Monday report was seized upon by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “It is vital that the administration and Congress work diligently to eliminate potential threats that compromise the integrity of the federal workforce and the privileged information they safeguard,” Coburn said in a statement. “Giving security clearances to individuals who fail to follow the law is unwise and risky. Federal tax cheats with security clearances jeopardize both our national and economic security, and could unnecessarily put our nation’s classified information at risk.”
Coburn added that federal employees should “pay their share of taxes and live by the same rules that so many hard working Americans do.”