It happens every September. Inside federal office buildings, budget minions go on scandalous spending sprees using tens of billions of your tax dollars.
Their departments have gotten along just fine throughout the fiscal year, but as the clock ticks down to Sept. 30, they know that any money left over in their budget will be forfeited next fiscal year, so they scramble to spend every dollar.
What the heck are they buying at the last minute? The 2019 fiscal year facts, as compiled by a nonpartisan watchdog group called OpenTheBooks, are mind-blowing. The group’s annual “Use-It-Or-Lose-It Spending Spree” report is a must-read for every taxpayer who wonders if the federal government is justified in taxing us as much as it does.
The Defense Department was by far the biggest last-minute spender, spending $57.5 billion. The department bought luxury food items such as steak, lobster tail, snow crab, mahi-mahi, salmon and pecan pies. That was just in one month! It was just the appetizer for the rest of the department’s eyebrow-raising spending.
Various government departments felt the need for new furniture last September and spent a combined $458 million that month. The Pentagon ordered up nearly $124 million in office furnishings. Several agencies, such as Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, splurged on those snazzy sit-to-stand desks, signing contracts worth $3.3 million. Another $1.1 million was spent on new bulletin boards and erasable white boards.
Ten different agencies, many having nothing to do with peace-keeping, bought a total of $690.6 million in guns, ammunition and other weaponry. Among those making the last-minute buys: the departments of Education, Treasury, Interior, Labor, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. Who knew some civil servants at those agencies were packing?
Nearly half a billion dollars — $456.8 million to be exact — was spent by 32 federal departments to polish up their public relations efforts. Keep in mind those agencies already employ more than 5,000 public relations specialists. Some of that $456 million also paid for government advertising. Top spenders were Health and Human Services, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. The most expensive contract ordered up was the $72 million allocated for an anti-smoking ad campaign. Don’t most people already know that smoking can kill?
The folks in charge of budgets at the General Services Administration, the VA and the departments of State, Defense and Justice bought a fleet of new cars from Fiat Chrysler ($59.6 million), Ford ($36 million) and General Motors ($31.2 million), but that wasn’t all. Your tax dollars also went to more than $1 million in golf carts, $100,000 worth of motorcycles and $96,121 worth of snowmobiles. Last September, as the rush was on to spend, spend, spend, total transportation purchases came in at just under $254 million.
There were so many questionable items on the federal government’s last-minute shopping list ($3.7 million for games, toys and musical instruments; $502,026 spent on booze for embassies and consulates around the world) that there’s not enough space here to list them all. And, by the way, don’t be fooled by Washington’s “buy America” mantra. $6.5 billion went to contractors in foreign countries, including Germany, Afghanistan and Japan.
There was hope Congress might step in to curb this reckless use of taxpayer dollars. Republican Sen. Joni Ernst introduced a bill last April to reign in the September madness. Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would support ending use-it-or-lose-it spending at the DOD. But guess what’s happened so far? That’s right — lip service but no concrete action.
In February, when President Donald Trump sent his latest budget to Congress, he pledged to end the spend-it-all mindset. His Office of Management and Budget is in charge of reining in last-minute binge-buying and promises to continue the crackdown this September. Important to note: Last September’s $91 billion spending spree was lower than the year before when it nearly topped $97 billion.
So, now it’s open spending season again. Are the federal budget minions frantically writing more checks, or has word trickled down that outraged taxpayers have gotten wise?
Naturally, we won’t know details about this September’s spending until sometime next year when OpenTheBooks has time to gather facts and issue its next report. Thank goodness someone is keeping track.