Every September, the end of the fiscal year sparks a "use it or lose it" spending frenzy as federal agencies race to use up what’s left in their annual budgets. It’s a phenomenon that should drive taxpayers crazy. Agencies are afraid that if they spend less than their budget allows, Congress might send them less money in the next year. Agencies often try to spend everything that’s left instead of admitting they can operate on less.
Here are the top ten ways the government wasted taxpayer money in the last week of FY2017:
1. The Swamp Starts Here – Even the president was in on this year’s spending frenzy. In the last week of FY2017, President Donald Trump's office alone spent $21.8 million, which is more than three times the $6 million former President Barack Obama's office spent to close out FY2016. Trump's spending included $6.2 million in electrical hardware and supplies; $490,000 on tents and tarps; $489,517 on furniture; $10,612 on floor coverings; and $197,438 on newspapers and periodicals
2. Booze-Based Diplomacy – The State Department spent nearly $79,000 on booze for ten American embassies including Nigeria ($4,288), Peru ($4,453), Denmark ($4,736), Belgium ($6,760), Zambia ($6,429), and Sri Lanka ($9,613).
3. Armored Vehicles for HHS – In then-Secretary Tom Price's final week in office, the Department of Health and Human Services led the charge, spending more than $2 billion. This spending included a $1.5 million deal with Square One Armoring Services Company for a fleet of armored vehicles.
4. Guns, Ammo, and Military-Style Equipment – Non-military agencies embarked on a one-week arms race, spending $7.3 million on guns, ammunition, and weapons. The Department of Homeland Security ($4.4 million) and the Department of Justice ($1.6 million) bought the most weaponry. However, The Department of Agriculture, for example, spent $306,617 on guns from Glock, Inc., plus an array of ammunition. In addition to guns and ammo, agencies loaded up on night vision equipment ($1.5 million); personal armor ($3.5 million); and combat, assault, and tactical vehicles ($284,457).
5. Insect and Rodent Control at the VA – The federal government did some end-of-the-year cleaning, paying $152.5 million in "housekeeping" bills. While agencies paid $114 million to guards and facilities operations support, they also signed for custodial janitorial ($24.3 million); laundry and dry cleaning ($2.9 million); surveillance ($2.7 million); trash and garbage collection ($1 million); carpet cleaning ($630,943); interior plantscaping ($154,458); and snow removal/salt ($127,373). "Housekeeping" contracts included insect and rodent control, which cost $111,000 at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
6. Redecorating Allowance – For the new fiscal year, many federal agencies decided to redecorate. In one week, the government spent $83.4 million on furniture plus another $23 million on office supplies and equipment. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $15.6 million on new office furniture including $4.7 million to a veteran-owned company, American Veteran Office Furniture, LLC. The largest furniture contractor across all agencies, however, was Knoll, Inc. ($6.2 million) – a luxury furniture company that has 40 pieces permanently displayed in the American Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
7. Self-Promotion (PR) Machine – The government spent tens of millions of dollars on last-minute self-promotion. Agencies spent $18.6 million on public relations, $11.7 million on market research and public opinion, and $5.5 million on communications. Further, $28.8 million went to advertising efforts – the Department of Homeland Security spent $15 million on advertising, including a $6.7 million deal with Lempugh, Inc., and a $4 million contract with the Ogilvy Group. Further, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $3.2 million on signs and advertising displays with S2 Ventures, LLC.
8. We're Watching You – The Department of Homeland Security closed out its drone budget with a $235,000 unmanned aircraft purchase. The Department of Agriculture also splurged on a last-minute unmanned aircraft for $17,006.
9. Driving Up Taxpayer Costs – Federal agencies revved up spending to $10.3 million on passenger vehicles. The General Services Administration spent $4 million on vehicles, while the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services spent nearly $2 million each. While "Miscellaneous Foreign Awardees" made $1.5 million on these contracts, $1.4 million went to Ford Motor Company, $767,847 went to General Motors, and $119,510 went to Chrysler.
10. The Emperor Has No Clothes – Fourteen agencies splurged on a new $3.5 million wardrobe – the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security each spent more than $1 million on clothing, outerwear, and footwear in a one-week shopping spree.
In the midst of the government’s year-end spending spree, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act to curb "use it or lose it" spending. Paul's bill
would expand current law to pay bonus happy bureaucrats who identify unneeded or surplus funds and redirect 90 percent of those savings to deficit reduction.
The private-sector uses zero-based budgeting - where all expenses need to be justified from the ground up and every function within an organization is audited for cost. As a businessman, the president should know this.
Whether it’s passing legislation or finding another way to address this taxpayer abuse, Congress needs to crack down on "use it lose it" spending. When agencies engage in this wasteful practice, we all lose.