Income tax-delinquent FCC employees owe more than $1 million

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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While President Obama repeats his campaign talking point about high-income private sector employees allegedly not paying their “fair share” in taxes, many government employees at the Federal Communications Commission have failed to pay what they already owe under current tax law.

The Daily Caller has obtained a July 13 letter from Rep. Marsha Blackburn to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in which the Tennessee Republican wrote that according to Internal Revenue Service data, FCC employees’ income tax delinquency rate rose from 2.74 percent to 3.88 percent from 2008 to 2010. During that same period, she added, unpaid federal income taxes owed by the agency’s staff rose from $544,917 to $1,084,544.

And according to a May 2 memo sent by FCC Chief Human Capital Officer Bonita Tingley to all agency employees, also obtained by TheDC, “the IRS reported that as of September 30, 2011, 3.59 percent of FCC employees had some type of Federal income tax delinquency.” That rate was down only slightly from the 2010 figure.

“Overall,” Tingley disclosed, “the average delinquency rate for civilian employees of Federal agencies and departments was 3.6 percent.”

The FCC’s website discloses that it presently has 1,993 employees. In 2010 the business intelligence website Hoovers reported that the agency employed 1,930 people. That works out to 75 FCC staffers owing Uncle Sam an average of $14,483 each in unpaid income taxes

The number of those FCC employees earning salaries of $150,000 or more rose from 46 in 2008 to 431 in 2009, and then again to 535 in 2011.

Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart noted this FCC salary shift during a March 19 House appropriations subcommittee hearing — the same hearing during which he questioned Genachowski about the agency’s lack of transparency with respect to large numbers of Freedom of Information Act requests. (RELATED: FOIA data suggests FCC more secretive than CIA)

While Genachowski’s $346.7 million budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year  — a 2 percent increase over fiscal 2012 — did not call for a hiring increase, it included information covering the high pay rate of his agency staff.

Genachowski, forced to defend his salary structure during the March hearing, explained that the high pay rate of some employees reflected, in part, an effort to properly compensate first-rate talent. The increasing complex technical and legal challenges faced by the agency, he said, required the FCC to employ engineers, economists and others with advanced degrees.

He also said the FCC’s agency’s high retention rate could explain part of the increase in the number of employees earning more than $150,000 per year.

In an exchange with Genachowski during a February 16 House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee hearing, Blackburn connected the FCC’s tax delinquency with President Obama’s campaign strategy.

“It seems that with the majority of your employees making over $125,000 a year,” she said, “and with there being a growing percentage of them not paying their taxes, I would think that since the president has as one of his goals for people to pay their fair share, that we would appreciate if this is an issue that could be addressed.”

Genachowski agreed that he would look into the matter.

The FCC, however, continued its streak of slow responses to sitting members of Congress, taking nearly six months to respond to Blackburn’s inquiry. Her July 13 letter was a reminder to Genachowski that the issue was still unsettled

Jill Pender, the FCC’s Senior Counsel and Associate Director of Legislative Affairs, emailed Blackburn’s staff after receiving the letter.

“[P]eople experience financial problems for a myriad range of reasons, from being underwater on their mortgages to having to assist elderly parents or handle unexpected medical costs, or just poor personal budget planning,” according to Pender’s email, which TheDC obtained late Friday afternoon.

Blackburn told TheDC that with “a majority of FCC employees making more than $125,000 a year we need to ensure the FCC’s tax delinquency trends are fully reversed.”

“And if it takes the FCC three requests from Congress before the agency will release basic information about their employees’ tax delinquency rates,” she said, “imagine how private sector job creators feel when trying to gain information about how to interpret and comply with the agency’s maze of rules and regulations.”

The FCC did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.

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