July 30--WASHINGTON -- Bankruptcies or lots of delinquent credit card debt can cost you a government security clearance. Financially troubled employees might be coerced into selling secrets, the thinking goes.
But if you owe Uncle Sam, that's apparently another story.
A report released this week says that roughly 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors approved for security clearances owed more than $730 million in federal taxes as of June 2012.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress's nonpartisan watchdog agency, found that about 26,000 of those workers had access to classified information. Together they owed about $229 million.
Among all delinquent employees, fewer than half had a repayment plan with the Internal Revenue Service, the GAO says.
The report comes after members of Congress asked for a review of security-clearance determinations in the wake of recent breaches. Among them was Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who said in a statement Monday that federal employees must be made to "live by the same rules that so many hard working Americans do."
"Giving security clearances to individuals who fail to follow the law is unwise and risky," Coburn said. "Federal tax cheats with security clearances jeopardize both our national and economic security."
Part of the problem, the GAO says, is that federal law doesn't allow the IRS to share information on delinquent taxpayers. Agencies are working to change that, the report notes, as well as to create an automated system that would perform tax compliance checks.
Federal law doesn't bar an applicant with unpaid taxes from receiving a security clearance, the report says, "but delinquent tax debt poses a potential vulnerability."
More than 5 million civilian and military employees and contractors hold security clearances. A large portion live in Hampton Roads, which is home to roughly 35,000 civilian defense workers.
Corinne Reilly, 757-446-2277, firstname.lastname@example.org
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