Rule Number One for federal agencies approaching the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 is “don’t get caught with any unspent funds.” Buy something — anything — or Congress will cut your budget going forward. Swamp-drainer Trump’s first year in DC continues the long tradition of September binge spending.
Despite promises of fiscal conservatism, a balanced budget, and a reduced federal deficit, the Trump administration has given in to a “use it or lose it” spending frenzy spurred by the end of the 2017 fiscal year. The spending binge, long a fixture in previous administrations, took place during the end of September, as federal agencies chose to spend all of the remaining money allowed by their respective budgets instead of returning it to the Treasury. This is widely perceived to be born out of the fear that if agencies spend less money than they are allocated, Congress will reduce their budgets accordingly the subsequent year.
Uninclined to admitting that they are capable of functioning with less money, federal agencies under Trump embraced the practice, spending $11 billion in a single week on seemingly wasteful items such as new furniture, clothes, alcohol, and interior plants.
The federal agency that spent most during the final week of the fiscal year was the Department of Health and Human Services, whose head – Tom Price – had recently come under fire for spending a significant amount of taxpayer money on private jet travel. During that week – which was also Price’s last week in office – the department, officially tasked with enhancing and protecting “the health and well-being of all Americans,” spent more than $2 billion, including $1.5 million on a fleet of armored vehicles. Nearly $2 million also went towards the purchase of new unarmored passenger vehicles. The majority of these vehicles were purchased from “miscellaneous foreign awardees” despite the Trump administration’s clarion call to “Buy American.”
Other unusual expenditures came from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), which spent nearly $1.5 billion in the last week of September. Even though the VA has been under fire for years for its failure to provide veterans with adequate health care – resulting in many needless deaths – it chose to spend over $150M on such essentials as interior landscaping, redecorating, and luxury furniture.
The State Department, long notorious for binge-spending, did not disappoint this year under the leadership of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Of the $700 million it spent, $1 million was spent on clothing, outerwear and footwear, while $79,000 was spent exclusively on alcohol for 10 American embassies abroad. The State Department, like HHS, also spent around $2 million on new passenger vehicles, most of which were manufactured abroad.
Trump’s own office was also a big spender during the end of the fiscal year — spending $21.8 million on a variety of items, including $6.2 million on electrical hardware and supplies, $490,000 on tents, $489,517 on furniture, $10,612 on floor coverings and $197,438 on newspapers and magazines. In contrast, his predecessor Barack Obama spent $6 million — less than one-third the Trump binge — at the end of the previous fiscal year.
While Trump may have personally outspent Obama, federal agencies under Obama generally spent significantly more during the annual September spending spree. In 2013, for instance, federal agencies spent $50 billion in the last week of September, more than four times the amount spent by the Trump administration this year. The John Kerry-led State Department, at the close of fiscal year 2014, spent $1 million on a single granite sculpture, $5 million on glass stemware, $1.5 million on new furniture, and $26,315 on brand-name North Face clothing.
Though the Trump administration overall may be binge-spending less than its predecessors, the fact that it nevertheless partook in the controversial practice demonstrates a strong reluctance to “drain the swamp” and a continuation of the wasteful status quo Trump campaigned strongly against.