On the eve of destruction, a government spending spree

posted at 3:31 pm on September 29, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

Dr. Joyner points us to an example of what is, sadly, an all too common practice in Washington, but perhaps one which is coming with the worst timing and optics possible. As Congress battles back and forth over spending and whether or not we’ll even be able to keep the lights on in Washington, government agencies have been busy running out and spending like mad to use up all the remaining cash in their budgets so they don’t lose it for next year.

This past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork.

In a single day, the Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges.

And, in a single purchase, the Coast Guard spent $178,000 on “Cubicle Furniture Rehab.”

This string of big-ticket purchases was an unmistakable sign: It was “use it or lose it” season again in Washington.

All week, while Congress fought over next year’s budget, federal workers were immersed in a separate frantic drama. They were trying to spend the rest of this year’s budget before it is too late.

The reason for their haste is a system set up by Congress that, in many cases, requires agencies to spend all their allotted funds by Sept. 30.

If they don’t, the money becomes worthless to them on Oct. 1. And — even worse — if they fail to spend the money now, Congress could dock their funding in future years. The incentive, as always, is to spend.

Dr. Joyner offers what should seem like a common sense solution to this preposterous state of affairs. Of course, since it involves “common sense” that probably means it’s physically impossible inside the beltway.

Given that this is one of those “everybody knows” situations, one would think that Congress would have changed government accounting rules decades ago to fix the problem. Why not just let agencies keep unspent monies and apply them rationally to cover unexpected expenses or shortfalls the next year?

Last weekend I offered up a crazy idea about just telling every agency in the government and the military that they will have to find a way to make due with 1% less than they had in the previous year. Tagging off of Joyner’s suggestion, here’s an alternate idea. If you spend all your money, you get a 1% cut next year. But if you finish with a surplus, you get to keep the saved cash up to an amount equal to 0.5% of your budget, carrying it over to the next year. In that fashion, the agencies which manage to be frugal face less of a cut than anyone else. (And in government budget wars, if you get less of a cut than everyone else, you still “win” the battle.)

Again, it’s not a permanent solution in any sense. Until we reach the point of having the national will to put a leash on the government and have it spend less money than it takes in, all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We’ll still go under… it will just take longer. But if we can at least slow the decline significantly through across the board, modest cuts and elimination of stupidity such as these “use it or lose it” spending sprees, we buy some time to force a dose of sanity into the conversation.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Nothing has changed in 30 years. I remember doing at the end of the fiscal year when I was in the Air Force.

bw222 on September 29, 2013 at 3:36 PM

Until we reach the point of having the national will to put a leash on the government and have it spend less money than it takes in, all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We’ll still go under… it will just take longer. But if we can at least slow the decline significantly through across the board, modest cuts and elimination of stupidity such as these “use it or lose it” spending sprees, we buy some time to force a dose of sanity into the conversation.

Unfortunately, this will take not only a major change in mindset among the 52% or so American’s who pay no income taxes and the sizable percentage who bank on government entitlements, but a major mindset change of the corruptocrats who ‘run’ this massive bureaucracy.

The Tea Party conservatives are trying to change these mindsets – but they are being fought by not only the progressive statists of the left, but the self-entitled captured by the system members of the Republican Party.

It seems as if the goal isn’t to prevent the ‘Titanic’ from sinking – just to delay the sinking so they can cash in and get out before it goes under.

One thing is clear….this is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people….it’s all about the people being subservient to the state.

Athos on September 29, 2013 at 3:38 PM

On the eve of destruction, a government spending spree

Most compelling reason yet to shut it down.

bgibbs1000 on September 29, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Yet we cant cut one more single dime….

I do have to say to their credit though that is how it works. If you do not use money from one year, they cut it out from your next budget. That makes no sense because day to day …year to year are not the same. If we had a mild winter those plows are out just to be out… because if the funding next year gets cut we get tons of snow and then we dont have the money for plowing.

watertown on September 29, 2013 at 3:39 PM

As Congress battles back and forth over spending and whether or not we’ll even be able to keep the lights on in Washington, government agencies have been busy running out and spending like mad to use up all the remaining cash in their budgets so they don’t lose it for next year

…raise the debt ceiling!

KOOLAID2 on September 29, 2013 at 3:41 PM

This poor sick Republic is irreparably divided and terminally ill. Unfortunately, the electorate has installed over 500 fools that couldn’t lead a duck to water and therefore a solution is absolutely impossible.

rplat on September 29, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Pelosi – “… the cupboard is bare, nothing left to cut”

exceller on September 29, 2013 at 3:42 PM

Your proposal is a reasonable start.

I would go further and offer a structure of bonuses for agencies which accomplish their missions and save money: not only do they keep the 0.5% in the department/agency budget as a rainy day fund, but 1/4 of all savings over 1% go into the bonus fund.

All other federal employee bonuses would be eliminated permanently. Want a bonus? Save us some money!

Adjoran on September 29, 2013 at 3:46 PM

In the private sector, the majority of organizations use zero-based budgeting…. what one get’s from year to year in a budget is based on how effective and how efficient one operated their department.

Every penny requested has to be re-justified before it is authorized. If there is waste, inefficiency, or targeted goals missed, then generally one is looking at budget reductions.

In the public sector, it seems as if it’s SOP to throw good money after bad, to throw money at any and all problems, while eliminating waste, graft, and inefficiencies are not valued. Management or line personnel are not held accountable or responsible for their actions or performance.

Far too many don’t seem to realize that the government is funded by taking wealth away from people who have worked hard to earn that wealth. It’s not the government’s money and it’s not ‘free’ money for the government (or from the bloody government).

Yanking wealth from people, and out of the economy, damages people and the economy. Governments should be focusing on minimizing the damage as opposed to embracing the fallacies of social justice and fairness.

Athos on September 29, 2013 at 3:47 PM

…If you spend all your money, you get a 1% cut next year. But if you finish with a surplus, you get to keep the saved cash up to an amount equal to 0.5% of your budget, carrying it over to the next year.

Departmental spending MUST figure into employee bonus calculations, as it would in any sane corporation. If they spend all the money, no personal bonuses.

Of course the whole notion of employee bonuses in an organization that doesn’t produce anything, that creates no wealth, and is nothing but a boat anchor on our economy, is perverse in itself.

slickwillie2001 on September 29, 2013 at 3:50 PM

Your proposal is a reasonable start.

I would go further and offer a structure of bonuses for agencies which accomplish their missions and save money: not only do they keep the 0.5% in the department/agency budget as a rainy day fund, but 1/4 of all savings over 1% go into the bonus fund.

All other federal employee bonuses would be eliminated permanently. Want a bonus? Save us some money!

Adjoran on September 29, 2013 at 3:46 PM

More thinking like this, please. The Senate GOP has been reaching out to some new media outlets, including this one, to talk about ideas for the coming cycle. This is a darned good suggestion.

Jazz Shaw on September 29, 2013 at 3:50 PM

Yanking wealth from people, and out of the economy, damages people and the economy. Governments should be focusing on minimizing the damage as opposed to embracing the fallacies of social justice and fairness.

Athos on September 29, 2013 at 3:47 PM

Now that’s just crazy talk.

BacaDog on September 29, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Pelosi – “… the cupboard is bare, nothing left to cut”

exceller on September 29, 2013 at 3:42 PM

…and…she’s out to lunch!

KOOLAID2 on September 29, 2013 at 3:55 PM

Last weekend I offered up a crazy idea about just telling every agency in the government and the military that they will have to find a way to make due with 1% less than they had in the previous year. Tagging off of Joyner’s suggestion, here’s an alternate idea. If you spend all your money, you get a 1% cut next year. But if you finish with a surplus, you get to keep the saved cash up to an amount equal to 0.5% of your budget, carrying it over to the next year.

I would have said we’re cutting your budgets by 80%. Do what you want.

Shy Guy on September 29, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Sequester gets blamed for not meeting primary agency objectives yet they waste what’s left. Any agency head that has used the sequester excuse yet wastes money like this needs to be fired.

TfromV on September 29, 2013 at 4:10 PM

Careful here! This spending is also a sign of proper budget management. It depends on NOT that they spend the monies at the end of the year. It depends on what they use the spent monies for. Take the $562,000 the VA spent on art works. I do not know what they bought or how they will be use BUT maybe 20% of healing is due to the pleasant environment.

Did these art works go to the offices of a few (bad thing) or go to hospitals to be viewed by all (good thing).

Were the art works done by artist from Iran or …… (bad thing) or were the art works all done by Veterans (good thing).

The only point I’m trying to make here is we don’t know what or why they did what they did and we should not jump to any conclusions based on imperfect information.

jpcpt03 on September 29, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Been there and did that for over 35 years both Active Duty and as a Civilian. Data calls come in and it’s free Willy for anything you want the last three weeks of the FY. Having said that, most of the stuff is legitimate and used in the upcoming months. In my experience most organizations use end of the year money Bonanza to ensure enough paper and toner cartridges to last through the next six months or so.

Johnnyreb on September 29, 2013 at 4:15 PM

i was a Project Manager for a Government Contractor (Defense) for ten years. Every year was the same. September was time to dump the money. Computers, palm pilots, tools, whatever. Made me shake my head. Hundreds of thousands of dollars….

KCB on September 29, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Rs are having a little rally on the Senate steps…we’re here, where are they

http://www.c-span.org/Events/House-Passes-Two-Amendments-to-Continuing-Resolution-Bill-to-Ensure-Military-Pay/10737441638-18/

r keller on September 29, 2013 at 4:18 PM

If they have cash on hand, grant-funded programs and non-profits have always gone on end of year spending sprees so they don’t “lose” the money and also can justify the higher requests in subsequent years. Someone I know who works in a grant funded program was recently asked by her boss to come up with ways to essentially blow money in the least flagrantly egregious way possible for this very reason.

One more example of how free-market, for-profit capitalism is morally superior to the big-government/non-profit model favored by Obama and other progressives.

forest on September 29, 2013 at 4:20 PM

http://tinyurl.com/q5xfdn6

davidk on September 29, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Correct me if I am wrong, but at the end of a budget (fiscal) year, shouldn’t the balance be $-0- for the budget itself or for each allocation? Now I can see spending the surplus for anticipated real needs, but wouldn’t whatever is not spent be better directed to a general contingency fund for use in the next year? For example, what if federal disaster expenses exceed the budgeted figure? Couldn’t the funding be drawn from that contingency allocation?

onlineanalyst on September 29, 2013 at 4:33 PM

All other federal employee bonuses would be eliminated permanently. Want a bonus? Save us some money!

Adjoran on September 29, 2013 at 3:46 PM

…crazy huh?

KOOLAID2 on September 29, 2013 at 4:42 PM

This past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork

They can buy art but can’t find a dime for disabled veterans.

Nothing has changed in 30 years. I remember doing at the end of the fiscal year when I was in the Air Force.

bw222 on September 29, 2013 at 3:36 PM

Same here in the bloody navy.

banzaibob on September 29, 2013 at 4:57 PM

The system née do change to Quarterly Appropriations. Much more accurate financial forecasting and way less money lying around at the end of the period.

danielreyes on September 29, 2013 at 4:58 PM

Yesterday I installed ios 7 and now I can’t type to save my life.

danielreyes on September 29, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Again, it’s not a permanent solution in any sense. Until we reach the point of having the national will to put a leash on the government and have it spend less money than it takes in of not being moochers on other peoples’ dole, like lice and leeches, all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

To be certain, from both sides of the divide. I hate the R moochers more than the D scumbags and scumhags of the land.

Schadenfreude on September 29, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Shut it down, and keep it down.

Expose all the looters/moochers. Let it be.

Schadenfreude on September 29, 2013 at 5:12 PM

Love, love these comments – they say all which is wrong with the land, from both sides:

In the Agency I used to work for, use it or lose money was gratefully spent on much needed supplies we were penny pinching from buying during the year while the our great leaders in Congress fumbled around with CRs, hiring freezes etc.

JediJones
9/28/2013 9:33 PM PST
Overpaid government employee leeches like yourself don’t have a clue what “much-needed” means for the hardworking families struggling to get by whose money you seize to fund your worthless, unnecessary, wasteful endeavors.

JediJones
9/28/2013 9:36 PM PST
Praise God for any hiring freezes you parasites suffer. Much more preferable would be a complete shutdown and dismantling of your operations and a pink slip for you and your cronies.

Schadenfreude on September 29, 2013 at 5:13 PM

The private sector is generally more incompetent than the public sector.

crr6 on June 12, 2010 at 12:08 PM

Del Dolemonte on September 29, 2013 at 5:15 PM

Sometimes I think this spending is just totally out of control and it seems that congress and all can’t stop it and so the only way is to just stop cold with the debt limit increases, and stop funding the government, not just crazy expensive Obamacare that will probably cost $10 trillion in the 2020s and more the decade after. So, I think, no funding at all, ok we’ll back track some in for the military and some other things, but it just has to stop cold. When a person hasn’t budgeted and runs out of money, that’s the way he does it, he just stops spending, because he’s got no more. The govt should do the same.

anotherJoe on September 29, 2013 at 5:19 PM

Looters.

jix on September 29, 2013 at 5:22 PM

Tagging off of Joyner’s suggestion, here’s an alternate idea. If you spend all your money, you get a 1% cut next year. But if you finish with a surplus, you get to keep the saved cash up to an amount equal to 0.5% of your budget, carrying it over to the next year. In that fashion, the agencies which manage to be frugal face less of a cut than anyone else. (And in government budget wars, if you get less of a cut than everyone else, you still “win” the battle.)

And clever agency heads will ensure that they have exactly 1 dollar surplus every year.

You could eliminate the entire federal bureaucracy and DOD and still have a huge deficit due to entitlement spending….. ohhhh then you would have skin in the game? Got it. never mind.

“Take theirs not mine!” – the new American way.

Bradky on September 29, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Opposite of out.
River in France.

fogw on September 29, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Why not just let agencies keep unspent monies and apply them rationally to cover unexpected expenses or shortfalls the next year?

LMAO. Does Joyner really think that approach would solve this problem? I’ll tell you right now it won’t solve the problem, but it will reduce efficiency by the amount necessary to adjust their strategy on spending everything.

If you want to see sharp pencil penny pinching management take off, you’d be better off giving out bonuses based on budgetary savings.

Dusty on September 29, 2013 at 5:47 PM

The private sector is generally more incompetent than the public sector.

crr6 on June 12, 2010 at 12:08 PM

Del, what a find!

Fed Ex/UPS versus the idiotic Postal Service

Schadenfreude on September 29, 2013 at 5:48 PM

How about the budget getting cut by twice the amount of excess spending of the last month over the average of the previous 11 months?

michaelo on September 29, 2013 at 6:29 PM

On the eve of destruction, a government spending spree

Why is this even a story? It happens at the end of every fiscal year and has been as long as I can remember.

Of course, it isn’t usually done on the hype of a “shutdown” which really isn’t a shutdown in the sense that key government functions will still occur, checks will still go out, planes will not be falling out of the sky, etc.

Happy Nomad on September 29, 2013 at 7:31 PM

SHUT

IT

DOWN

.

AND

SHUT

IT

OFF

( AKA my MONEY being spent on CRAP )

TX-96 on September 29, 2013 at 7:34 PM

I have to tell you, I was a bit skittish that a shutdown would play badly for Republicans. After talking to quite a few people today, and this is a liberal leaning area, I am not so sure.

The most common response I heard today? SHUT IT DOWN, THIS GOVERNMENT HAS DONE NOTHING GOOD ANYWAY.

Whoa. I was shocked.

I suppose it makes sense when you look at the disaster Mr. Obama and Democrats have foisted upon us since 2008. But I didn’t think most people got it.

People, especially swing voting Independents, feel they have given Mr. Obama enough time. That’s the general message I got today.

I am still not a huge supporter of a shutdown and believe an impasse simply forestalls the inevitable decisions.

But I will say if Democrats and the President believe a shutdown will play in their favor, they may want to rethink that conclusion. Because from where I am sitting, it just may guarantee they lose the senate,

Frankly, I believe Cruz raised the profile and Republicans in the House have finally followed a high-profile, coordinated strategy which is paying dividends.

Marcus Traianus on September 29, 2013 at 7:44 PM

But I will say if Democrats and the President believe a shutdown will play in their favor, they may want to rethink that conclusion. Because from where I am sitting, it just may guarantee they lose the senate,

Frankly, I believe Cruz raised the profile and Republicans in the House have finally followed a high-profile, coordinated strategy which is paying dividends.

Marcus Traianus on September 29, 2013 at 7:44 PM

Face it, Cruz showed a little bit of leadership and look what it led to. I am certain that the GOP “leaders” in the House were looking to cave. We the people melted the phone lines to the Capitol and gave the GOP a spine.

What is less clear is how this all ends. Who blinks first?

Happy Nomad on September 29, 2013 at 7:53 PM

Personally, after all of this, I hope the Republicans lose and the Obamacare exchanges start on Tuesday. No one will be able to say they didn’t fight the good fight and then the disaster will take place. Who will get blamed for the disaster? The Republicans, of course, but they should be able to deflect it fairly well. The sycophant media will try every trick in the book to protect the Democrats, but it’s not going to work.

In a way, I feel sorry for the Democrats, to the extent they really believe this is going to work. They really believe you can add 10 million people to the health care rolls and no doctors, and there will be no problems. They actually believe you can get 10 million people to sign up for exchanges, with computer glitches etc. and, when they have serious problems, they will hold the party that didn’t vote for this, responsible. I can’t imagine them being able to straighten this out in 3 months, but if they don’t I won’t feel sorry for them any more. I’m going to feel sorry for the first person who tried for 3 months to sign up for health care, couldn’t get it done, and has a serious problem after January 1st. I wonder of the MSM will cover that story?

bflat879 on September 29, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Face it, Cruz showed a little bit of leadership and look what it led to

I agree completely. Cruz was the spark and people are feeding off that energy now.

The House is moving as a single force right now and people can feel it. To see our representatives working together and in the capital this weekend was the first inspiring thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Marcus Traianus on September 29, 2013 at 8:02 PM

The House is moving as a single force right now and people can feel it. To see our representatives working together and in the capital this weekend was the first inspiring thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Marcus Traianus on September 29, 2013 at 8:02 PM

Sorry but I don’t see that “single force thing.” I see the establishment pissed off that they can’t cave and promise that “next time” the Dems are really going to get it.

Happy Nomad on September 29, 2013 at 8:18 PM

I used tolive near the end of the runway at Bergstrom AFB.

Every year, at the end of September, the noise of jets doing touch and go landings 24/7 was deafening, as squadrons burned up every last drop of fuel for the fiscal year.

Some things never change.

DarthBrooks on September 29, 2013 at 8:29 PM

…It depends on what they use the spent monies for. Take the $562,000 the VA spent on art works. I do not know what they bought or how they will be use BUT maybe 20% of healing is due to the pleasant environment

jpcpt03 on September 29, 2013 at 4:13 PM

I take it you’ve never been to a VA Medical Center.

Mitoch55 on September 29, 2013 at 9:11 PM

If you want to see sharp pencil penny pinching management take off, you’d be better off giving out bonuses based on budgetary savings.

Dusty on September 29, 2013 at 5:47 PM

I disagree. What you would see is some HQ manager hoarding or short-changing those that do the work so the HQ manager can get a bigger bonus.

Given the amounts mentioned above, it is clear someone within a HQ made the above decisions, based on having to spend the money immediately…and likely had some wish-list items all lined up. I cannot believe anyone at a regional or below office would have authority to spend that kind of ching without someone above them OKing it…but these amounts are too big outside an HQ in Washington.

Since the VA pissed away so much, how many departments in local VA hospitals were short-changed throughout the year so some manager would have a stash at the end of the year? How many veterans were given excuses? I’ve seen it happen for many years…rather than funding a local office or department with what they need, they get stiffed…then HQ spends huge amounts at the end of the year.

If you want to make a change in this process, then that place is in the IG office of every agency. Make them self funding. Every IG is charged with budget oversight of an agency…they should also be looking at excess in a budget, and what money is wasted on programs that do not work. Any money saved by an IG should have a certain percentage returned to that IG’s office for more assistants to look for more waste, in addition to a percentage as a bonus for the personnel in the IG’s office that uncovered the waste or fraud.

With almost a billion in fraud in Medicare alone,and the incentive above, it would not take long for all kinds of waste to be found.

An IG’s team of 5 uncovering just a $10 million fraud or waste, just 1 percent of that would make quite a bonus for those 5.

91Veteran on September 29, 2013 at 9:55 PM

Tagging off of Joyner’s suggestion, here’s an alternate idea. If you spend all your money, you get a 1% cut next year. But if you finish with a surplus, you get to keep the saved cash up to an amount equal to 0.5% of your budget, carrying it over to the next year. you get audited and risk losing all of your budget for next year. If you finish with a surplus you get a certificate of appreciation for doing your job and a 50% budget cut for next year.

NOMOBO on September 30, 2013 at 10:03 AM

I know that there needs to be statutory authorization for impoundment so why not just have Congress specifically enumerate certain, mostly overhead portions of agency budgets as being areas where cuts are specifically authorized. Thus, agencies can save money without interfering with policy. The furniture repair fund, for instance, is definitely an area where discretionary cuts can be made without changing the governance by the agency.

blammm on September 30, 2013 at 12:50 PM