Federal government spent $91 billion last September during annual 'use-it-or-lose-it' period

In the final month of their 2019 fiscal year, the federal government spent $91 billion on last-minute contracts, including $40 million on catfish, $3.7 million on musical instruments, and $53 million on batteries

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Golden Horseshoe
Golden Horseshoe
(Just the News)
Updated: September 6, 2020 - 10:35am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just the News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s. 

This week, in honor of pending federal budget negotiations, our award is going to the entire U.S. government for spending a total of $91 billion taxpayer dollars this month last year, in order to ensure their individual agency and organization budgets would not shrink, as Congress negotiated a new deal.

Every year, in corporate offices around the country, departments coming up on the end of their fiscal term rush to spend any additional funds that might be left on hand, lest they be left with a surplus of cash that would lead their corporate overlords to believe they could do just as much work during the next year, with fewer dollars. Parts of the federal government face the same problem every year, as Congress spends each September renegotiating the federal budget to keep the government funded.

According to the annual "Use-It-Or-Lose-It Spending Spree" report from openthebooks.com, in the past five years, the government has spent a total of $415 billion during the month of September. Each year since 2015, the number has increased, except from 2018 to 2019, when the number dropped by about $5 billion.

During September of 2019, federal agencies spent an average of $3 billion a day on 21,418 transactions, for a total of  642,567 transactions over the course of the month. During the last two business days of fiscal 2019 alone, the government managed to spend $23.8 billion on federal contracts.

Some standout purchases made by the government during its 2019 panic shopping period included a half-million dollar alcohol tab (including $60,000 on Coors beer), $3.7 million on musical instruments, including pianos, flutes, and French horns, $4.6 million on lobster tails and snow crabs, plus an additional $40 million on catfish, Mahi Mahi and salmon, and finally, somehow, agencies spent a combined $53 million on batteries.

While all parts of the government should assume appropriate responsibility for their year-ending spending sprees, it is worth noting that in 2019, 81% of all contract spending occurred across just five departments of government. Of the $91 billion spree, the Pentagon spent $57.5 billion, Health and Human Services spent $5.7 billion, Veterans Affairs spent $3.8 billion, the General Services Administration spent $3.6 billion, and Homeland Security spend $3.5 billion.

In 2019, the federal government spent $575 billion in total on contracts. So, about one sixth, or just under 16%, of those dollars were spent during the last month of the fiscal calendar. By a long shot, September typically sees the highest annual monthly rate of spending from the federal government.

The federal government is once again entering the period of the year when, despite massive coronavirus relief spending, agencies will throw caution to the wind and spend like there's no fiscal tomorrow. 

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