Federal Workers Good at Paying Taxes, USA Today Expose Conceals

USAT052314The front page of USA Today (5/23/14) blew the whistle on federal workers: They are tax deadbeats who owe billions in back taxes.

The story also revealed that they owe less than most people.


The paper has a thing for going after federal workers (Extra!, 1/11; FAIR Action Alert, 3/1/11), so it wasn’t that surprising to see the headline “Fed Workers Owe $3.3 B Taxes.”

Reporter Gregory Korte kicked his story off with this:

Federal employees owe a total of $3.3 billion in back taxes to the federal government, according to Internal Revenue Service data released Thursday.

That’s a lot of money! And the second paragraph indicates the problem is getting worse:

In all, 318,462 federal employees owed back taxes as of last September 30–an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous year. That puts the average tax bill at $10,391, according to IRS data obtained by USA Today under the Freedom of Information Act.

So the paper’s not just getting these numbers from a press release–they’re proactively digging up the data on what government workers owe the IRS.

There’s a “but” coming. Here it is, in paragraph 3:

But federal workers are better at paying their taxes than the average taxpayer. Their delinquency rate of 3.19 percent is far lower than the 8.7 percent for the population at large.

At this point, a careful reader might be trying to fathom why this is a front-page story. If it must be one, then isn’t the news really that governments are less likely than the rest of the population to owe the IRS back taxes?

For a newspaper that seems keenly interested in bashing public workers, “Fed Workers Pay Their Taxes” is not front-page material. But that’s what their story actually finds, so the story has to be arranged to obscure that fact.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.