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How the Bureaucracy Prepared for the Shutdown

A bottomless pit

A bottomless pitWhile both Houses of the Congress argued about the terms of the Continuing Resolution to fund the Federal government, the bureaucracy prepared for the shutdown by a frenzy of year-end spending.

Like most large organizations the philosophy of “spend it or lose it” prevails. The bureaucracies of large government spend endless hours tracking their spending almost to the penny in order to keep the level of spending each year that has been budgeted. If the budget isn’t exhausted by October 1st then the money is lost.

A recent Washington Post report on the subject detailed numerous examples of sometimes profligate year-end spending in Executive Branch agencies.

  • This past week, the 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.
  • In 2012 the government spent $45 billion on contracts in the last week of September, according to calculations by the fiscal-conservative group Public Notice. That was more than any other week — 9 percent of the year’s contract spending money, spent in 2 percent of the year.
  • In 2010 the IRS had millions left over in an account to hire new personnel. They spent the money on a lavish conference which included a “Star Trek” parody video starring IRS managers. It was filmed on a “Star Trek” set that the IRS paid to build. (Sample dialogue: “We’ve received a distress call from the planet NoTax.”)

  • One recent study, for instance, found that information technology contracts signed at year’s end often produced noticeably worse results than those signed in calmer times.
  • Federal worker in an online suggestion box told of the dumber things that have been bought like three years’ worth of staples and portable generators that were never used.
  • One Federal bureaucrat told of buying so much ammunition that it became a chore to fire it. “When you get BORED from shooting MACHINE GUNS, there is a problem.”

In some cases government contractors look upon the end of the year spending as “dialing for dollars”. Private contractors worried that sequestration would result in a smaller spending rush this year brought in food to keep salespeople at their desks.

“Twenty-five percent of my business, right, will happen in this month. Twenty-five percent of my year,” said Art Richer, the president of ImmixGroup, a contractor in Tysons Corner that helps software and computing companies seeking government business.

Government building are off limits to government contractors so most of the business is done by phone. “Answer the phone smiling,” Richer tells his people.

On Monday, Immix began bringing its sales team three catered meals a day. If workers walked to Subway, they might lose a sale. On that day, Immix handled $16 million in business. A normal Monday is about $2 million.

“It’s going to come down to Monday,” said Richer, at ImmixGroup. On Friday, he said his sales had been about equal to last year’s, despite worries about sequestration.

On Monday, Richer’s people will sell until midnight. Then they will keep selling. “Money rolls across the continent,” the feds say. Cash not spent in Washington might be spent by federal offices in California in the three hours before it is midnight there.

Throughout the government top officials right up to President Obama understand that the system of spending is harmful yet no one has the political will to change it. The pressure to “spend it or lose it” drives the bureaucracy to make sure that they expend every dollar.






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Name: Richard Billies

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