Senators Highlight New GAO Report on Security Clearances

Clearances Given to Federal Employees and Contractors Who Owe Backed Taxes

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) highlighted a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) entitled, “Security Clearances: Additional Mechanisms May Aid Federal Tax-Debt Detection.”  In the report, GAO found that 8,400 individuals adjudicated as eligible for a clearance were found to owe $85 million in unpaid federal taxes as of June 2012. 

“Giving security clearances to individuals that fail to follow the law is unwise and unnecessarily puts our nation’s classified information at risk,” Dr. Coburn said.  “Prudent precautions must be taken to eliminate potential threats that could compromise the integrity of federal workforce and the privileged information they safeguard.  Federal tax cheats with security clearances are double threats that jeopardize both our national and economic security.  Because of this, it is imperative the Administration and Congress quickly take action to eliminate this egregious, and preventable, practice.  Doing so will not only enhance our security, but will also encourage federal employees to live by the same rules and pay their share of taxes.”

"All federal employees from the highest positions in the President's Cabinet to IRS employees have an obligation to abide by the law and pay their taxes - just like every other American,” Senator Hatch said.  “Unfortunately, as this report demonstrates, there are too many bad actors who don't disclose having a tax debt exposing themselves to bribery and blackmail. Given the positions they hold and the influence they wield, those earning a paycheck from Uncle Sam need to live up to the highest standard - not just because it's the law, which is of course tantamount, but also to ensure their official responsibilities aren't jeopardized. I hope the Administration views this report as an opportunity to fix this problem."

“This GAO report is further evidence of the weaknesses in our security clearance process,” Senator Collins said.  “That is why I have introduced bipartisan legislation along with Senators McCaskill, Ayotte, and Heitkamp that would direct OPM to institute at least two audits of every security clearance at random times during each five-year period the clearance is active.  Any red flags raised will then be reported back to the employing agency to determine if a re-investigation of the clearance is needed.   Unpaid taxes are an indicator of financial trouble and may indicate in some cases that the employee could be susceptible to a bribe.  This type of information must be monitored to help prevent future incidents such as we have recently experienced.”

According to the report, approximately 4.9 million employees and contractors have a security clearance.  GAO conducted its analysis between April 2006 and December 31, 2011. During that time, approximately 240,000 received a clearance.  Of the 240,000 that received a clearance, GAO found that 8,400 individuals adjudicated as eligible for a clearance were found to owe $85 million in unpaid federal taxes as of June 2012, representing about 3.4 percent of the civilian executive branch employees and contractors who were favorably adjudicated during this timeframe.  GAO did not include employees and contractors from the Department of Defense in its analysis.

Key findings include:

  • Of the 8,400 individuals found to owe backed taxes, half (4,200) had a repayment plan with the IRS to pay back their debt.  These individuals with repayment plans owed approximately $35 million (meaning the other half that did not have a repayment plan owed $50 million).
  • Of the 8,400 individuals, 4,700 were federal employees and 3,700 were contractors.
  • Of the 8,400 individuals, 4,200 were given a top-secret clearance.
  • Approximately 76 percent (6,300 individuals) accrued tax debts only after the issuance of the security clearance.
  • About 16 percent of the $85 million in unpaid taxes were delinquent more than 3 years, and approximately 6 percent of the unpaid federal taxes were delinquent more than 5 years.
  • The unpaid taxes of each individual varied from approximately $100 to over $2 million, and the median tax-debt amount owed was $3,800.
  • Because OPM’s systems do not maintain information on the denial of security clearances on the basis of an individual’s nonpayment of federal taxes, it is unknown how many individuals were denied a clearance for having unpaid federal taxes.

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