While a government shutdown appears imminent, due to political gridlock surrounding budget negotiations, the government has continued to do what they do best: spend taxpayer dollars. Most agencies’ primary concern over the past week has been to spend the remainder of their fiscal year budget instead of relinquishing the unused funds to help save money.
This so-called ‘use it or lose it’ culture promotes wasteful spending and an overall lack of concern for fiscal responsibility. It’s part of the dysfunctional bureaucratic attitude in Washington that prevails across all sections of the federal government.
The fiscal year ends on September 30 and the new fiscal year begins October 1. This ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy means that every agency must use all of the funds allotted to them for the fiscal year by today or that money will be lost and they won’t be able to use it. In that event, Congress could decide that since that particular agency didn’t use all of the funds allotted to them, the amount of money in future budgets should be cut.
So basically every year around September, you see a huge spending spree from government agencies. The reality is that an agency is penalized for saving money and given a pat on the back for spending it, no matter what it’s spent on.
This weekend, The Washington Post reported, “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.’”
Now you would think that in a time of budget cuts and austerity those agencies could find a better use for their funds. Instead of buying artwork, the VA could have met some veterans’ disability claims, or implement a bonus incentive to employees who are processing the most. How about hiring more medical staff at VA hospitals? And ‘Cubicle Furniture Rehab’ is a fancy way of saying they bought a large amount of unnecessary office furniture to make employees offices shiny and pretty.
If congress is serious about spending reform and budget cuts they must acknowledge the perverse incentives at work. They might want to start with the backwards, illogical fiscal year ‘use or lose’ culture inside the government that promotes waste and irresponsibility. They can make all of the cuts they want, but until they get to the root of the problem — the endemic spending culture — real reform will not occur. And it isn’t going to be simple, which is why most politicians won’t address it. Most would rather make untargeted cuts to the military that only mask the problem.
Spending reform starts with acknowledging where the problem lies. Leadership must address the ‘use or lose’ race to September 30th that happens at the end of every fiscal year is horrifically wasteful and further promotes fiscal irresponsibility. Accountability must take precedence government wide if there is any hope of progress. Agencies need to be incentivized to save money and their surplus funds should be allowed to be roll over into the next fiscal year. Only then will we see change. Until that happens we are only going to see more threats of government shutdowns, more shifting of blame, and more wasteful spending.
This is government hypocrisy at its finest. In the midst of sequestration, budget cuts and a looming government shutdown, agencies across the board are still free to spend as wastefully as they see fit. It’s this lack of accountability and lack of common sense that is constantly plaguing our government. It is a vicious and inept cycle and we, as American taxpayers, are the ones paying the price for their negligence.
Amber Barno is a writer and commentator and member of Concerned Veterans for America. She is a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.