As the budget conference committee meets to negotiate U.S. federal spending, lawmakers should not lose sight of the billions in taxpayer money still being wasted each year by federal government agencies. The end of the fiscal year in September is an annual showcase of waste just to spend the very last dollar.
Each year, agencies must forfeit to the Treasury any funds not spent before the fiscal year ends on September 30. Predictably, agencies launch into a frenzy to shell out as much cash as possible before that date to avoid giving Congress an excuse to cut their budgets the following year. Taxpayers, current and future, receive little consideration in this annual exercise, which takes place regardless of the size of the federal deficit.
A study tracking government spending from 2004 to 2009 found that, on average, the government spends five times more on contracts in the week leading up to October 1, and projects begun during this period were up to 5.6 times more likely to have lower quality compared to those begun during other weeks during the year.
The trend continues today: According to The Washington Post, over 19 percent of government contract spending for fiscal years 2010–2012 occurred during the last five weeks of the fiscal year, nearly double the rate of any other five-week period of the year.
The eve of the government shutdown was marked by an outrageous, yet expected, bureaucratic spending bonanza. Bureaucrats feverishly purchased tens of thousands of toner cartridges ($343,995 at the Department of Treasury, $46,553 at the Department of Commerce) and filled their offices with new furniture ($46,360 for upright desks at the Department of Commerce, $95,072 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and over $200,000 for the Department of Treasury). The State Department spent $40,937 on lounge chairs, sofas, and a credenza—complemented by a $92,945 purchase of “fabrics and finishes.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs—which was largely spared from sequestration cuts—splurged on recliners costing $65,897, almost $1.5 million of office furniture, and over half-a-million dollars worth of artwork. The VA waiting room in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will be an oasis of serenity in the Lehigh Valley, with $80,774 in new furnishings and portraits of scenic landscapes covering the walls.
As lawmakers wrangle over how to undo the Budget Control Act’s modest spending cuts, it would serve them well to keep in mind how much taxpayer money continues to be squandered. Clearly, there’s more room to cut.
Matthew Sabas is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.