Speed Reads

Government efficiency

Federal employees rewarded for making questionable purchases

September 30 marked the end of the federal government's fiscal year, which means the last month brought an avalanche of sketchy federal spending choices as agencies rush to use up their full budgets.

The agencies' motivation is the fact that any unspent funds must be returned to the Treasury, and future budgets could be lowered if it looks like the agencies don't need all the money they get. In other words, frugality is not rewarded; it's punished — so much so that in 2013, a study released by researchers from Harvard University and Stanford University found that federal contract spending jumps to five times the weekly average in the last week of the fiscal year.

This year's spending spree included $1.8 million spent on artwork for the Department of Veteran Affairs, including $285,000 to decorate a parking garage. The State Department bought nearly $100,000 of alcohol in September, while the Department of Homeland Security purchased two pianos. And the IRS dropped $2,410,000 on a single order of printer toner, presumably to send printed letters between coworkers instead of relying on those notoriously tricky emails and hard drives.