Let’s reduce government waste


Fort Dodge Messenger

Sen. Joni Ernst wants Congress to take stronger action

Anyone who has ever worked for a federal government agency knows that during the last few weeks of the fiscal year making sure that no approved funding is left unspent becomes a priority. This occurs because of the way Congress processes agency appropriation requests. Typically, what the entity spent the year before is taken as a given and subjected to minimal scrutiny. The spending that gets close review is anything beyond what was actually spent the previous year.

This approach creates a powerful incentive for agencies to enter the appropriation process with as large a “funding base” — i.e., the previous year’s actual expenditures — as possible. As a result bureaucrats often make spending decisions in the last weeks of the fiscal year that are not really needed. They view it as important to keep the funding base as high as possible so appropriation committee members won’t think they could get by with less money in the year ahead.

When U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst was a candidate, she promised to make federal agencies more frugal in their use of taxpayers’ dollars. Showing her commitment to that goal, she has just introduced the End of the Year Responsibility Act. It is designed to upend the “use-it, or lose-it” bureaucratic mindset that leads to enormous wasteful spending.

“Billion-dollar binge buying is no way to budget,” Ernst said. “That’s why I am introducing a commonsense bill that would curtail the out-of-control, impulsive spending we so often see in Washington by removing 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.”

Ernst’s legislation would limit an agency’s spending in the last two months of the fiscal year to no more than the average it spent per month during the preceding 10 months. This limit applies only to discretionary spending.

In championing this worthy proposal, the Iowa Republican pointed to examples of wasteful spending that occurred in the last days of the fiscal year, which she characterized as “binge buying” by bureaucrats. Here are some of these highly questionable expenditures: $4.6 million for lobster tail and crab; $2.1 million on games, toys and wheeled goods; $308,994 on beer and booze; $201 million on advertising; $53,004 for china tableware; $40,379 on clocks and $24,993 for candy and candy bars.

According to Ernst, last year federal bureaucrats spent $53 billion in the final seven days of the fiscal year. While some of these expenditures no doubt were warranted, the incentive for last-minute spending is such that it is likely that a good many unnecessary purchases also occurred.

The Messenger applauds Ernst for combatting government waste. Her proposed legislation is an excellent step in the right direction. It could make year-end spending binges less likely. We hope her colleagues in Washington will give it prompt and favorable consideration.