FORT WORTH, Texas - The Defense Department, strapped for troops for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has proposed to Congress that it tap the Internal Revenue Service to locate out-of-touch reservists.
The unusual measure, which the Pentagon said has been examined by lawyers, would allow the IRS to pass on addresses for tens of thousands of former military members who still face recall into the active duty.
The proposal has largely escaped attention amid all the other crises of government, and it is likely to face opposition from privacy rights activists who see information held by the IRS as inviolate.
For it to become practice, Congress and President Bush would have to approve the proposal, which would involve amending the tax code.
Ari Schwartz, an associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said granting access to any IRS data would open the door to more requests from other arms of the government.
Just a few years ago, Congress strengthened the privacy provisions of the tax code, he said.
"There are other ways to solve the problem they have, without putting the tax information at risk," Schwartz said. "We would hope that those members who worked only four or five years ago on strengthening tax-privacy laws would stand up and say this is a bad idea."
Lt. Col. Bob Stone, a spokesman for the assistant defense secretary for reserve affairs, said the proposal was developed several years ago and is unconnected to the Army's current shortage of troops.
Part or all of nine of the Army's 10 active-duty divisions are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and 167,000 members of the reserves or National Guard are on active duty, with thousands more on alert for mobilization.
Unknown to most Americans, though, is the existence of the Individual Ready Reserve, which has more than 280,000 members.
The IRR is a distinctly different animal than the drilling reserves or National Guard.
Those in the IRR are people who have completed their active-duty tours but are subject to involuntary recall for a certain number of years. For example, a soldier who serves four years on active duty remains in the IRR for another four years.
During that time, however, they receive no pay, do not drill with a unit and are otherwise completely civilian.
The problem for the Pentagon is that the whereabouts of 50,200 of those veterans are unknown to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. The largest number - 40,700 - are former Army GIs.
Because Texas sends more people into the service than almost any other state, it's a good bet many are in the Lone Star State.
"While the military today is comprised of an all-volunteer force, every individual who volunteers for service in the armed forces voluntarily accepts an eight-year military service obligation," Stone said.
The troops are required to keep the services' updated on their residences, but many do not. Thirty-four percent of former Army soldiers cannot be tracked. The unknowns in the other services are in the single digit percentages.
"One of the difficulties that the military services confront is keeping addresses current," Stone said.
The Defense Department has called on members of the IRR before. About 7,000 people have been recalled since 9-11, Stone said. Approximately 30,000 were recalled for service during the buildup for the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and 1991, he said.
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