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:

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

The Money is Gone: Army Feeling the Pressure of Sequestration

Budget cuts to the Department of Defense (DOD) are not going to stop anytime soon. The DOD was hit with $37 billion in cuts this year and is likely to face an additional $52 billion in cuts next year.

But the Army is missing the big picture when it comes to handling sequestration. It should be about making the right cuts verses the easy cuts the first time around—in order to avoid having to deal with the same problem in the near future. Unfortunately, that’s not the approach they’re taking.

A case in point is last week’s memo from Army leadership ordering commanders and staff to develop a comprehensive plan to cut 25 percent of the budget and personnel at all Army headquarters with the rank of 2-star and above. The deadline for the plans is in nearly two weeks, on September 11, 2013.

From the text of the memo:

Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities…

…. To ensure Army readiness at these reduced budget levels, we must make the best and maximum use of every single dollar provided to the Army.

While headquarter reductions are necessary, especially as the Afghanistan war is coming to a close, giving the Review Group a two week deadline is only setting them up for failure. There is no doubt the Review Group will meet the deadline. But it will merely mean decisions will be rushed and the outcome will likely be ill-considered and incomprehensible, rather than the careful, strategic consideration of future needs that is required.

These cuts are essential but the Review Group must be given the adequate time to make decisions that will effectively reduce unnecessary spending. Forcing commanders and other military personnel to make these decisions in two weeks is illogical and will only result in poor decision-making and reduced readiness.

Originally published at:

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The Pentagon is Spending Taxpayer Dollars on What?

The Department of Defense has continued to cry wolf about the possible results of sequestration. But before making serious claims about not being able to promote our soldiers, or move them to new locations, or attend military schools essential for career advancement, they should probably take a closer look at what the Pentagon is spending taxpayer dollars on.

In an attempt to persuade congress from letting sequestration happen again next year, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently sent a letter to Congress stating that the DOD would have to inflict “an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change of station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing promotions,” in addition to cutting weapons programs and other actions that will hinder military readiness and weaken national security.

Well, that just sounds terrible doesn’t it?

Before you panic, thinking our military has no money to conduct business, consider the following expenditures that are currently a priority to the Pentagon in the wake of sequestration.

The military recently spent $34 million on a construction project in Afghanistan. The money was spent building a headquarters for planning U.S. military operations. Unfortunately, the structure is unoccupied and will most likely never be used. It will either be demolished or handed over to the Afghans.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State received $3.5 million from the Department of Defense to purchase land around the base to protect gophers that inhabit the area. The DOD also gave Eglin Air Force Base in Florida $1.75 million to save a tortoise habitat.

Less known, but even more wasteful is the military’s acquisition process. The U.S. Army has been attempting to find a replacement for the current light attack/reconnaissance helicopter, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior for over 3 decades. First came the Comanche helicopter program, but after 21 years and $6.9 billion the program was cancelled.

Next the Army developed the ARH-70 (Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter) program which was cancelled after 4 years and cost the taxpayers $3 billion. Most recently, the U.S. Army decided to put on hold their $6-8 billion Armed Aerial Scout helicopter program.

30 years and $10-15 billion of taxpayer dollars later, the U.S. Army only has an updated version of the original OH-58D helicopter they’ve sought to replace. The Kiowa Warrior (as aged as it is) was an essential aircraft through out the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintains the most successful mission capability and readiness rate of any other helicopter in the Army’s fleet.

What this comes down to is uncontrollable waste. The Pentagon’s spending priorities are disheveled in addition to their fiscal mismanagement and decision-making abilities. Spending millions on gophers and vacant buildings is a classic example of fraud, waste, and abuse of not only military assets, but taxpayer dollars as well. The Department of Defense even has a hotline people can call for waste like that. And wasting billions on mere attempts to improve military equipment shows a completely broken system that must be addressed.

When sequestration happens in fiscal year 2014, the Pentagon is facing $52 billion in defense cuts. While it is excessive for the Pentagon to have to make the majority of the cuts (in FY13 DOD received 50% of the cuts) it should look at this as wake up call to decades of irresponsible spending and an expanding bureaucracy whose priorities must be checked.

Secretary Hagel must reform the spending practices within the Department of Defense if he wants Congress to take his words of warning seriously. If the Pentagon had cut the waste and was spending appropriately previously, he would have a legitimate complaint. But making panic-stricken statements about the budget shows a lack of resolve with regard to the department’s spending problem. Basically, it is easier to keep receiving money than to address the real problem: out-of-control appropriations with zero accountability, and wasteful programs within the DOD.

Words of advice: before you go to Congress threatening all sorts of dramatic consequences for sequestration, eliminate the vast amount of waste within the DOD. Trim the fat, not the muscle.

Also published at The Daily Caller:

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Are All Veterans Created Equal?

There are few things more humbling and patriotic than witnessing a military funeral. Viewing the military customs, the decorative uniforms, and hearing taps echo through the trees, help those in attendance understand and appreciate their sacrifice.

It is an honour. It is a tradition. It is a service that is bestowed only to the finest men and women this country has to offer, its veterans.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan wrote an opinion piece last week that addressed the nation’s debt crisis, offering a solution by starting with cutting military funeral honors. McClellan went as far to say that ‘most veterans did nothing heroic,’ implying veterans’ military funerals are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Well Mr. McClellan, I beg to differ.

Veterans are heroic. Each and every one of them. It doesn’t matter if they served as a cook or as an Infantryman. No matter the reason, each veteran felt the need to serve his or her country, which is heroic enough in itself. We need more brave men and women like our veterans in this country.

They understood the need to protect something larger than themselves and defend this great nation that has provided so many opportunities for so many people. They all take the same oath to protect and serve the United States of America no matter what the job title.

By joining the military, each person knows that there is a significant chance he or she could end up fighting our nation’s wars where their outcome is unknown. While certain jobs may be considered more dangerous than another, one does not diminish the other. The military is a team effort and it does not succeed with out the combined force. Each and every veteran matters. Our Nation’s veterans are not expendable and either are the honors they have respectfully earned.

McClellan stated “Everybody knows government needs to cut costs,” before making the recommendation that we start by stripping veterans of the honours they undoubtedly deserve, he may want to dig a bit deeper and see what the federal government is spending tax dollars on.

Might I suggest that McClellan research the area of government waste to discover the plethora of ‘smaller programs’ that could be at the top of the list above making any cuts to veterans programs. Make cuts in areas that are wasting taxpayer dollars. Do not disrespect the small but significant percentage of people who have defended our country so bravely.

Our veterans do not deserve to suffer for the inabilities of political leadership. They deserve to be recognised by the federal government with military honors if they so desire.

I’ve been to military funerals. I’ve served on military funeral details. I’ve been a military pallbearer. Let me tell you that it does matter.

It makes a difference to families and friends. It matters to fellow veterans. It matters that we as a nation value honoring all of our veterans who have done so much for our country. I for one think it is a disgrace to attack our veterans’ military honors for fiscal mismanagement.

Follow Amber on Twitter at @AmberBarno

Published at The Commentator: