A few weeks ago I wrote a column for the Baltimore Sun (original link no longer public) along with a post at 538.com, where I blog regularly, in defense of the U.S. Post Office and postal employees. But hey, that doesn't me they get to skirt their responsibility to pay their federal taxes!
Apparently, however, postal workers and a variety of other federal employees, including many military service personnel, collectively owe the federal treasury more than $3 billion. Post employees are most numerous, but that is a bit misleading given that the USPS is the second largest government employer after the military. Still, their "scofflaw" rate of 3.95 percent is more than a third higher than the total federal employee average of 2.8 percent. And since the postal employees scofflaw rate is factored into that 2.8 percent, the non-postal average is lower than that. And they can't complain the check is in, or was lost in, the mail. (rimshot)
The list also more than 27,000 active duty military members, and even 50 people who work for the Executive Office of the President who collectively owe nearly a million bucks. (The EOP includes White House staffers--although it's not clear from reports if they are Bush Administration or Obama Administration employees.) The worst offender, though a small agency with just 48 employees and five scofflaws (10.4 percent) is the National Capital Planning Commission, whoever the hell they are.
I'm glad to hear the IRS is going after these people. Maybe Congress needs to pass a law making continuation of employment partially conditional on tax payments. It would be harsh to just fire somebody for a mistaken or late return; and certainly those appealing a tax ruling should have time and opportunity to defend themselves.
But if there are people with serial, perennial tax avoidance problems, I'm hard-pressed to find a justification for allowing any of them--other than perhaps the possible exception of military members in combat or harm's-way situations--to work for the government if they are in fact cheating the government. A computer manufacturer who discovered employees stealing computers from the inventory would fire those employees, so why shouldn't the government fire federal tax cheats?