Stop Fiscal Year Spending Orgy: Column

September 10, 2013

Stop Fiscal Year Spending Orgy: Column

As seen in USA Today
By Gretchen Hamel

Call it “Christmas in September.” Just as children eagerly count down the days until the holiday, government contractors are counting the days until the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

While America debates a war in Syria and the federal debt limit, government agencies are putting the final touches on a year-end spending spree. That means big paydays for those who supply information technology, computer equipment and other pricey items. But those big paydays also mean squandered taxpayer dollars as agencies rush to buy what they might not need.

The operative phrase is “spend it or lose it.” Here’s how it works: In the final weeks of the fiscal year (which runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) Washington bureaucrats hastily make purchases and execute contracts to burn through excess funds.

Why? Because if they don’t spend their entire budget allotment, congressional appropriators might slash their budgets in subsequent years.

And for every government buyer, plenty of contractors and lobbyists stand ready to help with the spending splurge. Washington trade publications are filled with articles offering advice to businesses that want to hop on the federal spending gravy train by taking advantage of the year-end spending spree.

Spread across hundreds of government agencies, the waste adds up to billions. …

Though it might be tempting to blame the profligacy of the Bush and Obama administrations, the practice has been common in government spending for decades, earning bipartisan critiques. In fact, “spend it or lose it” came under critical attention from the Government Accountability Office in a 1980 report, 33 years ago. Since then, the problem has grown.

If we are to have any hope of curbing Washington’s spending addiction, our elected officials need to reform this wasteful practice. …

With a national debt of $17 trillion and sluggish economic growth, the fiscal picture for the United States looks grim. And as the administration and federal agencies raise the alarm over sequester-related worker furloughs, they turn a blind eye to the wasteful spending right in front of them — or worse, encourage it. That’s why it’s important that Washington act to restore a sense of accountability and responsibility to the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

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