Ernst Bill Would Stop Bureaucrats’ End-of-Year Spending Binges

May 7, 2019 Updated: May 7, 2019

WASHINGTON—Federal bureaucrats spent more than $97 billion just before the end of the 2018 fiscal year, not on much-needed high priority items, but $4.6 million for such luxuries as lobster and crab, $1.2 million to sponsor the Professional Bull Riders LLC, and $53,004 for fine china tableware.

“Billion-dollar binge-buying is no way to budget,” according to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who recently introduced a measure designed to end “use it or lose it” government purchases in the last two months of a fiscal year.

Ernst said in a statement that she wants to remove “incentives for government agencies to needlessly shell out their extra tax dollars at the end of the year.”

“With our national debt now surpassing $22 trillion, Washington should be looking for ways to save by canceling or delaying unnecessary expenses, rather than encouraging bureaucrats to splurge on end-of-year wish lists.”

The problem is a product of long-standing federal law that dictates unspent funds be returned to the Department of the Treasury at the end of a fiscal year (Sept. 30).

To avoid losing the funds, federal bureaucrats for decades have made August and September among the most prolific months for spending tax dollars that would otherwise go back to the Treasury.

Cooked blue crabs are seen at the Maine Avenue Fish Market along the Potomac River in Washington on April 21, 2016. At the end of the fiscal year, federal bureaucrats splurge on luxury items like crab. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ernst cited an analysis by Open The Books, an Illinois-based nonprofit government spending watchdog, that found the $97 billion in year-end spending for 2018. Open The Books seeks to make public spending at all levels of government, not just in Washington.

The $97 million represented a 16 percent increase over 2017 and a 39 percent hike over 2015. Examples included in the Open The Books study in addition to those cited above were these:

  • $2.1 million on games, toys, and wheeled goods
  • $308,994 on beer and booze
  • $201 million on advertising
  • $40,379 on clocks
  • $24,993 for candy and candy bars
  • $17,900 for five tons of tater tots, 10 tons of dry pinto beans, and five tons of dry pasta
  • $11,816 on a commercial foosball table
  • $9,341 on a Wexford leather club chair

“In the final seven days of the fiscal year, agencies ramped up their spending to a total $53 billion—that’s more than they spent in the entire month of August,” according to Open The Books.

The Department of Defense (DOD) was by far the leading offender with $61.2 billion, followed at a distance by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at $5.6 billion, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with $5.2 billion.

The Ernst measure exempts Social Security and Medicare entitlement spending, as well as national security-related expenditures. How the exemptions would be administered, particularly within DOD, is unclear.

“This bill won’t end all wasteful spending, but it will force agencies to put more thought into long-term planning and curtail the out-of-control impulsive spending,” Ernst said in an op-ed on Real Clear Politics co-authored with Adam Andrzejewski, the Open The Books founder.

Asked by The Epoch Times if the Ernst proposal would benefit Republican congressional candidates in the 2020 elections, GOP strategist Brian Darling said on May 7 that the bill “is a good way for Republicans to reclaim the fight to limit federal government spending,” a fight, he noted, the party’s senators and representatives have been losing for decades.

“Members of Congress who fight to be good stewards of taxpayer monies, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, will be rewarded,” Darling added, “because taxpayers don’t like the idea of Washington special interests using the federal government in a way that clearly wastes money.”

“This fight by the junior senator from Iowa is a good one and her efforts to show leadership on weeding out waste is one that is shared by all American voters,” he said.

Darling, a former legislative aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is president of the Washington-based Liberty Government Affairs firm.

Democrats interviewed by The Epoch Times for this story were unanimously and intensely opposed to the Ernst proposal.

“This is nothing more than a cheap political stunt straight out of the Republicans’ oldest playbook,” said Jim Manley. “Member puts out a press release to the state showing how tough they are on spending, while in D.C., they vote time and time again for tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and corporations that have exploded our country’s debt.”

Manley was communications director for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Christian Hanley, a Democratic strategist and host of the Keep it in Perspective podcast, described the Ernst proposal as “classic right-wing misdirection. Our national debt is primarily driven by military spending, Pentagon waste, and, of course, her party’s reckless tax cuts for billionaires.”

Hanley said using the Ernst proposal “for paying down the national debt is like using a penny jar to pay off the mortgage.”