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Tax Laggards Lurk In Congress

Members of Congress and their staffs owe about $10.5 million in unpaid taxes, one of the highest rates of tax nonpayment of any part of the federal government, according to IRS data released Thursday.

The nonpayment rate as of October 1999 for the House of Representatives was 8.4 percent, while that in the Senate was 7.5 percent. This same Congress, as part of the 1998 Internal Revenue Service reform law, made nonpayment of taxes an immediate firing offense for the agency's workers.

"Members of Congress and their staffs have an obligation, like all taxpayers, to pay their taxes in full and on time," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, R-Del., who frequently gets extensions to pay taxes but is not running behind, a spokeswoman added.

The agency did not release the names of those who owe.

The total for most civilian agencies of the executive branch was 6.2 percent, but some Cabinet agencies were much higher. The Education Department, for example, had a 9.2 percent nonpayment rate; Housing and Urban Development's was 8.5 percent and the Labor Department was 7.7 percent.

Other high nonpayment rates: 8.2 percent for the FBI and 7.9 percent for the Coast Guard. The CIA's nonpayment rate was nearly 4 percent, while the Federal Reserve System rate was 8.2 percent. The Defense Department's nonpayment rate came to 7.3 percent.

The Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, had a tax nonpayment rate of 3.8 percent, the lowest of the Cabinet agencies. The White House nonpayment rate was 6.5 percent, an improvement over the 13 percent recorded last year.

The IRS has compiled data on federal employee nonpayment of taxes through its document matching systems since 1993 as a way of spurring greater compliance throughout the government. The numbers include people who are gradually paying off their tax bills through installment agreements with the IRS.

All told, the nonpayment rate for the federal government is about 5.2 percent, compared with 8.1 percent for the U.S. population. The balance owed by these federal employees is estimated at $2.4 billion.