Bureaucrats Licensed to Spend Your Tax Dollars

Every September, as the end of the U.S. government’s fiscal year draws near, thousands of federal bureaucrats go on a massive spending bender, lest they risk having their future budgets cut in the next year because they didn’t spend all the money they could have in the current year.

According to fiscal policy watchdog OpenTheBooks, federal bureaucrats spent $97 billion in a single month to close out the U.S. government’s 2018 fiscal year, setting a new record for their annual spending binge. Here are some selected lowlights from their report, The Federal Government’s Use-it-or-Lose-it Spending Spree:

In the final month of fiscal year 2018, the federal government spent $97 billion on 509,828 contracts. On average, each contract was worth $190,190 while the largest contract was worth $2.9 billion....

The federal government spent money on a wide array of contracts including a Wexford Leather club chair ($9,241), china tableware ($53,004), alcohol ($308,994), golf carts ($673,471), musical equipment including pianos, tubas, and trombones ($1.7 million), lobster tail and crab ($4.6 million), iPhones and iPads ($7.7 million), and workout and recreation equipment ($9.8 million)....

Between 2015 and 2018, federal spending during the final month of the fiscal year increased by 39 percent. From 2017 to 2018, September spending increased by 16 percent.

In the private sector, among businesses that develop new products, there’s an old motto that applies when you’re seeking to meet a customer’s needs: “Good, Fast, & Cheap. Pick Any Two.”

The saying captures the trade-offs that will be made in order to satisfy the customer’s main priorities. For example, if they want to get a high-quality product quickly, its cost will not be cheap. Alternatively, if they want to get a good product at the lowest cost, it will take time to deliver.

Every September, federal bureaucrats are ending their fiscal year with one priority set above all others, driven by their perceived need to spend money fast or else risk having their budgets cut in the future. That means they are either sacrificing quality or they are sacrificing getting a good value for whatever they are buying on behalf of regular Americans because they are perversely incented to spend money as quickly as they possibly can, rather than wisely.

All in all, it’s a recipe for guaranteeing that taxpayer dollars will be wasted. At least now we know how much it costs, and that it isn’t something that happens by accident.

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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