The Government’s ‘Use it or Lose it’ Syndrome

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 reportedThe 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.

Originally published at The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/30/on-the-verge-of-shutdown-government-agencies-are-still-wasting-hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollards/

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

The Debt Isn’t Going To Fix Itself

Convincing politicians to deal with the debt is like convincing someone to quit smoking. People know it’s bad for them, but don’t want to make any changes because in the short term they see no effects, even if they know that eventually, their habit is likely to kill them.

With all of the commotion in Washington, it is easy to overlook  our nation’s spending addiction. The debt is rapidly approaching $17 trillion, just another record level of debt, but it’s hardly news since the next record is just around the corner. Both Congress and the President seem to welcome the opportunity to turn America’s attention elsewhere.  The government spying on American citizens, the IRS targeting conservative groups, and the State Department’s failure with Benghazi are all issues that require attention, but they cannot be used as an excuse to postpone handling the debt crisis.

Americans need to send politicians a simple message when it comes to the debt:  Enough with the political small talk. We want action. We the People want spending reform and debt management to become a priority. We know that serious consequences face our nation if our debt problem continues to be ignored and mismanaged.

Sequestration helped reduce the deficit on a very small scale, but it is far from a solution to our spending problem. It is merely a temporary band-aid to a long term, severe problem. Until the White House and Congress, on both sides of the aisle, wake up and come to terms that the debt is not going to fix itself, there will be no change to the nation’s spending habits.

Importantly, any serious conversation about the spending problem has to begin with an adult discussion of reforming entitlement programs.  Sadly, no one seems to want to address the elephants in the room: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs. Some perspective: entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs make up 64% of the total budget while the Department of Defense makes up 17%. This was one of the key problems with sequestration:

Half of the cuts from sequestration went to the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon needs spending reform like every other department across our government, but putting the majority of the cuts on defense is foolish and allowed America to avoid a much needed, more urgent conversation about the real drivers of our fiscal imbalance, entitlement programs.  Sequestration also failed to target those areas of the budget, including the defense budget that would be the best for reductions.  This year, for example, the Pentagon was able to make the majority of the cuts through civilian employee furloughs and military training cuts.  But if sequestration happens again for fiscal year 2014, as it seems increasingly likely, it’s not going to be as easy as furloughing civilian employees or canceling public tours at the White House. This time military troops will directly feel the effects of sequestration. There will be a reduction in force (meaning soldiers will be involuntarily forced out of the military), less training, outdated weaponry, technology, and equipment. This will significantly affect our military readiness and eventually weaken our defense

This doesn’t need to happen, and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

More members of Congress must realize that all politicians are going to have to make sacrifices and consider sensible changes to even popular programs if we are going to move toward a stable fiscal situation Reforming entitlement programs—yes, that means touching those third rails of politics—must become a priority, as we cannot afford them in their current state.  This means that all Americans have to encourage this conversation and make politicians pay a penalty for avoiding this topic.

It may be easy to forget about the accruing national debt—how many millions more were added, just in the time it took you to read this short piece?—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious issue.  We need to make real spending reform a priority today, before it’s too late.

Originally Published at The Tennessean: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130802/OPINION03/308020047/2071/OPINION?nclick_check=1

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno