Once again politicians are getting upset over the annual report of government employees who owe back taxes.
"Fire them all, especially if they're in Congress!" is part of the cry heard these days.
We agree with the sentiment.
But we'd modify it slightly.
Imagine a target, lying flat, with the bull's-eye over Washington, D.C.
The closer the accused tax-dodgers are to that epicenter, the more strident should be the imperative to get them to pay up or get out.
But as those rings spread out, especially to members of the armed services, particularly those overseas in battle zones, a big dollop of mercy -- and patience -- is due.
People who pass the tax laws ought to abide by them.
But also remember that the raw data on which the battle cry is raised simply represent what the IRS says the employees owe, not what they -- or their lawyers -- might say.
Or whether they are working on payment plans.
And since members of the U.S. military are accused by the IRS of owing a substantial portion of the debt, we could wind up with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq saying, "Fired? Me? You bet!"
That's unlikely, of course, but they might have to return stateside anyway to battle the IRS in court.
(It's a strange, strange world when the IRS suddenly is perceived as an agency that always is right rather than one that is more hound then helper.)
Still, the raw data are chilling.
According to reports in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, some of the presumed tax scofflaws include:
* 331 employees in the Department of Energy owing $4.9 million (about $15,000 apiece).
* 81 staffers of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors owing $1.07 million.
* 1,920 from the Social Security Administration owing $17.8 million.
* Four from the U.S. Tax Court owing $51,111.
* 11,330 Army owing $90 million.
* 5,817 Air Force for $47 million.
* 6,841 Navy for $72.5 million.
* 421 staff or members of the U.S. House of Representatives for $6.5 million (about $15,500 a piece).
* 217 staff or members of the U.S. Senate for $2.7 million (about $12,500 apiece).
"Capitol Hill employees owed $9.3 million in overdue taxes at the end of last year, a sliver of the $1 billion owed by federal workers nationwide, but one with potential political ramifications for members of Congress," wrote T.W. Farnam in The Washington Post recently.
"Forty-one employees at the Executive Office of the President owed a total of $831,000, roughly the same amount as during the last year of George W. Bush's administration," Farnam said.
Something's new here. The Post's Albert B. Crenshaw wrote March 19, 1996, that:
"More than 415,000 federal military and civilian workers and retirees owe nearly $2.3 billion in back taxes, and roughly another 138,000 workers didn't file tax returns at all in at least one recent year, according to Internal Revenue Service data."
It does seem that the amount the IRS says government employees owe is less than half of what it was 14 years ago.
That's progress, but we'd still like to see the IRS target those in the bull's-eye rather than the outer rings.