House Passes Bill to Fire Tax-Delinquent Federal, Postal Workers

August 3, 2012

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The House of Representatives passed a bill on July 31 that could cost federal and postal workers their jobs if they are behind in paying their federal taxes.

The Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act (H.R. 828), introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and approved by the chamber by a vote of 263 to 114, stipulates that “persons having seriously delinquent tax debts shall be ineligible for Federal employment.”

The bill defines “seriously delinquent” as debt for which a lien notice has been filed in public records.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the bill would not apply to debt:

  • That is being paid in a timely manner under an approved installment payment agreement or an offer-in-compromise;
  • For which a collection due process hearing has been requested or pending;
  • For which a levy has been issued or agreed to by an applicant for employment, or
  • That is determined to be an economic hardship to the taxpayer.

Under the act, U.S. government employees would have 60 days to prove that their tax debt is not seriously delinquent before facing termination.

Leading opposition to the legislation during debate on the House floor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said that the measure would be “largely symbolic” because 96 percent of federal employees pay their taxes.

When the bill was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in April,

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the committee, conceded that the bill is “almost pure symbolism.”

“That clearly was the intent,” said APWU Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid. “Families that are struggling in a depressed economy to meet their financial obligations – often through no fault of their own – could now lose their only source of income, which strangely enough could have helped to pay the outstanding debt.”

“I strongly believe that the House's efforts and energy would be better spent on focusing on measures to strengthen the federal civil service and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government,” Maloney said, “rather than by making symbolic gestures that reinforce a negative view of the federal work force.”

Critics have observed that Chaffetz’s bill does not apply to government contractors and their employees, and that the chamber’s Republican majority has not considered legislation offered by Democrats that would apply the employment ban for tax delinquency to private-sector work that is paid for with federal funds.

H.R. 828 has been referred to the Senate, where a similar bill (S. 376), introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), has not been acted upon.

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