House Rejects Bill That Would Allow Uncle Sam to Fire Federal Tax Cheats

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, revived a bill earlier this year that he shepherded through the House during the 112th Congress. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, revived a bill earlier this year that he shepherded through the House during the 112th Congress. Rick Bowmer/AP

The House voted down legislation on Monday evening -- Tax Day -- that would allow the government to fire federal employees who fail to pay their taxes.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, revived a bill earlier this year that he shepherded through the House during the 112th Congress. The legislation passed the House last summer in a bipartisan vote, but the Senate never took it up, so it died. House lawmakers in the 113th Congress, however, rejected the measure this time around.

The bill (H.R. 249) would have applied to executive and legislative branch employees as well as Postal Service workers who are delinquent on their taxes and have not entered into an agreement with the government to repay the debt. The legislation also would have prohibited the government from hiring job applicants with seriously delinquent tax debt. The measure defined seriously delinquent tax debt as outstanding debt to the federal government for which a public lien has been filed. Under current law Internal Revenue Service employees can be fired for failing to pay their taxes.

The House on Monday passed a bill (H.R. 882) that would prohibit seriously tax delinquent federal contractors and grantees from doing business with the government. The bill does not apply to individuals seeking assistance through a grant entitlement program.

According to an IRS report, 107,658 federal civilian employees owed more than $1 billion in unpaid federal income taxes in 2011 -- a delinquency rate of 3.62 percent of the total civilian workforce. That’s less than half the tax delinquency rate of the general public, which is 8.2 percent. Retired civilians had a tax delinquency tab of about $533 million. More than 94,000 military retirees owed $1.6 billion in unpaid taxes in 2011, and active-duty service members owed about $109 million, the IRS report found. The figures do not include federal employees or military service members who owe taxes but have repayment agreements.

H.R. 249 did not apply to military service members or members of Congress. Chaffetz has introduced a separate bill, H.R. 884, that would require lawmakers to disclose any tax delinquency, as well as require an ethics inquiry into the matter and garnish members’ wages if necessary. That bill is in currently in committee.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said H.R. 249 was unnecessary, since agencies already can take disciplinary action against employees, including removal and wage garnishment, for failing to pay taxes. She said the bill showed how “out of touch” the current Congress is. “Congress could take up legislation on tax filing day that would address unfairness in the tax code or the underfunding that is preventing the IRS from eliminating the tax return identity theft that is plaguing our seniors, but instead, they will take up a bill to fire middle class workers whose pay they have just caused to be cut, who fall behind in their taxes, and of course, exempt themselves,” Kelley said.

Democrats with many federal employee constituents, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., and Jim Moran of Virginia, opposed the bill during floor remarks, saying it unfairly targets federal employees, the vast majority of whom pay their taxes on time.

Chaffetz argued that the legislation only affected tax delinquent government workers. “The ones who are doing the right job, and are patriotic, are protected under this bill,” said the Republican, in a heated exchange with Moran.

Chaffetz said he spoke to a group of human resources professionals within the federal government about the legislation, and they were supportive of it. “We told them about this, and said ‘You need some tools to take care of the bad apples.’ I could see every one of their heads shaking ‘Yes, please give us this tool.’”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that if enacted the legislation would cost $1 million in 2014 and less than $500,000 annually after that “to create certification forms, develop new regulations, and review records of current and prospective employees.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.