The Washington Post

Defense agency looks for ways to spend

The Pentagon (AFP/Getty Images)

Spend the money! Spend it all! Spend it now!

That’s the distinct impression created by a recent e-mail sent by Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) contracting and budget officers to their colleagues.

“Our available funding balances remain large in all appropriations — too large to spend” just on small supplemental funds often required by existing contracts, the June 27 e-mail said. DISA’s budget is $2 billion.

“It is critical in our efforts to [spend] 100% of our available resources this fiscal year,” said the e-mail from budget officer Sannadean Sims and procurement officer Kathleen Miller. “It is also imperative that your organization meets its projected spending goal for June. . .”

In these days of sequester and downsizing and such, that policy seems a bit out of place. (Although it could be seen as a stimulus effort.)

It also appears to contradict a September 2012 memo from the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition Frank Kendall, and comptroller Robert Hale, who urged that “spending money primarily to avoid reductions in future budget[s]” is not the way to go.

“The threat that funding will be taken away or that future budgets can be reduced unless funds are obligated on schedule,” they wrote, “is a strong and perverse motivator.”

The problem, Kendall and Hale said, if “we risk creating incentives to enter into quick but poor business deals or to expend funds primarily to avoid reductions in future budget years.”

The effort to spend it all is not unusual, given the traditional “use it or lose it” view in many agencies — that is, that unspent funds in one year will mean budget reductions in the next, a fate worse than just about anything.

And, as Kendall and Hale point out, “For the past several years, Congress has used unobligated balances as a means to reduce our budgets.”

A DISA spokesperson e-mailed to say that these e-mails are “common practice among government agencies” and that many congressional “financial and procurement timelines . . .are designed to ensure that agencies” spend 80 percent of their funds before the last two months of the fiscal year, or by August 1.

The June 27 e-mail laid out an aggressive and detailed spending timetable to achieve that goal, but acknowledged the parlous budgetary times in which we live. “Due to the furlough schedule, exceptions to our schedule will be on a case-by-case basis . . .”

But this spending goal is a “perverse motivator.” And we’ve always eschewed perversion.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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