A Democratic senator has asked the director of national intelligence to investigate the high number of defense employees who have failed to pay their taxes, arguing that giving them security clearances poses a national security risk.
Financial health is supposed to be assessed in the security clearance process to determine, for example, whether someone with access to classified information can be bought by a hostile party. Federal law, though, doesn’t prohibit someone with unpaid taxes from holding a security clearance.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report recently finding that, as of June 2012, out of 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors owing $730 million in unpaid taxes to the IRS, about a quarter of those were still deemed eligible for a TS/SCI clearance — top secret/sensitive compartmented information.
Together, those with unpaid taxes who received the high clearance owed $83 million, according to the GAO. Forty-seven percent of those debt holders were contractors, who accounted for about $25 million of the delinquent taxes.
About 40 percent of the total number of DoD employees with tax troubles had a repayment plan in place with the IRS.
“This data indicates that there are tens of thousands of federal employees and contractors with the highest levels of clearance who, because of extreme financial overextension, may no longer be relied upon to put our country’s interests before his or her own,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wrote to DNI James Clapper.
“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,” the senator said. “Given the scope of this problem and the amount of debt involved, I urge you to address this matter comprehensively and promptly.”
Tester heads the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and has been critical of security clearance oversight. Clapper has been working with the Office of Personnel Management to improve the standards for background investigations and clearances.
Tester said in a statement that “some of these individuals with delinquent tax debt are jeopardizing our national security because of poor judgment and decision-making.”
“Potentially harmful financial behaviors should not be ignored after an individual is granted or deemed eligible to have a security clearance,” he said.