The continued success of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC),
which is administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), is
predicated on donor confidence that each donation reaches a legitimate
charitable organization. The Ways and Means Committee's review of
tax-exempt entities has led to concerns that charities listed in CFC
are failing to remit payroll and other taxes to IRS as required by law.
Specifically, GAO was asked to determine whether and to what extent (1)
charities listed in the 2005 CFC have unpaid payroll and other taxes;
(2) selected charities, their directors, or senior officers are abusing
the federal tax system; and (3) OPM screens charities for federal tax
problems before allowing them to be listed with CFC.
More than 1,280 CFC charities, nearly 6 percent of charities in the
OPM-administered 2005 campaign, had tax debts totaling almost $36
million as of September 30, 2005. While the majority of this debt
represented payroll taxes, penalties, and interest dating back as far
as 1988, the debt also included amounts from annual reporting
penalties, excise taxes, exempt organization business income taxes,
unemployment taxes, and other types of taxes and penalties. Most of the
1,280 tax delinquent charities (79 percent) owed less than $10,000.
Further, at least 170 of the charities with tax debt received about
$1.6 billion in federal grants in 2005. All 15 of the charities that we
selected for detailed audit and investigation had abusive and
potentially criminal activity related to the federal tax system.
Specifically, rather than fulfill their role as trustees of this money
and forward it to the IRS, the directors and senior officers diverted
the money for charity-related expenses, including their own salaries,
some of which were in excess of $100,000. Although exempt from federal
income tax, charities as employers are required to forward payroll
taxes withheld from their employees' wages to the IRS. Willful failure
to remit payroll taxes is a felony under U.S. law. We referred all 15
of these charities to the IRS for consideration of additional
collection or criminal investigation. OPM does not screen CFC charities
for federal tax problems or independently validate with the IRS whether
the charity is truly a tax-exempt organization. Federal law prevents
OPM from accessing taxpayer information required to screen for tax
delinquency. Consequently, OPM was unaware of the charities that owed
federal tax debt and cannot provide assurance that the more than 22,000
participating charities are tax-exempt organizations. To demonstrate
the vulnerability of this process, GAO created a fictitious charity and
successfully applied to three large local campaigns.
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