Is the Government Taking Feds’ Tax Debt Seriously Enough?

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., urged the intelligence chief to send a stronger message. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., urged the intelligence chief to send a stronger message. Flickr user senatormccaskill

At least one senator wants the national intelligence chief to send a stronger message that failure by federal employees and contractors to pay back taxes is a threat to national security.

In an Aug. 26 letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester highlighted a July Government Accountability Office report  showing that 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors cumulatively owed more than $730 million in taxes. 

“This unacceptable situation raises national security concerns and sends the message to taxpayers that some folks don’t have to play by the rules, but can still be trusted with access to our nation’s most sensitive information,” Tester told Clapper.  “Given the scope of this problem and the amount of debt involved, I urge you to address this matter comprehensively and promptly.”

Sudden heavy debt and personal bankruptcy by security clearance holders are considered possible signs of vulnerability to bribery or workplace misconduct as the government moves toward more continuous evaluation of employees with access to classified information.

Tester, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, said he wants Clapper and the Office of Personnel Management to more thoroughly investigate applicants’ financial backgrounds during the background check process. He asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence how the government plans to recoup the $730 million in unpaid taxes and take action to restrict the access of employees or contractors with unpaid taxes.

Tester, author of a new law giving OPM more flexibility to use its revolving fund for background checks, is also pushing one of several bills to further reform the security clearance process. His Security Clearance Accountability and Reform (SCARE) Act cleared the Homeland Security panel in May. It would punish federal employees and contractors found to have compromised the integrity of a background investigation, and update government policy determining which positions require a security clearance.

(Image via Flickr user senatormccaskill)

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