Columnist

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 its 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, is “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 spokesman 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 Aug 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.

Maybe next time

Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has a new reason to be irritated about having her nomination held up in the Senate: It’s causing her to miss out on what sounds like a fantastic conference in scenic Los Cabos, Mexico.

Instead, the acting director, Bob Perciasepe , will participate this week in the meeting with leaders from Canada and Mexico to talk about environmental issues. Sure, it sounds like participants will be plenty busy with sessions for the Council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, which will focus on “greening transportation in North America, adapting to climate change and addressing hazardous waste across the continent,” according to the EPA.

But surely they will have some down time to take a dip in the ocean (the conference takes place at a waterfront hotel ) and they at least will catch sight of the spectacular views on coffee breaks.

Perhaps Perciasepe can send McCarthy — who is among the White House nominees still awaiting votes in the Senate — a few photos. Our suggestion for a rub-it-in caption? “Wish you were here!”

Why indeed?

The best congressional hearing title we’ve heard this week comes in the form of a question: “Why should Americans have to comply with the laws of foreign nations?”

That’s to be the topic of a July 17 session of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on fisheries, wildlife, oceans and insular affairs, according to an
e-mail circulated this week to staff members. The hearing will examine the Lacey Law, a conservation statute adopted in 1900 that prevents U.S. companies from using wood illegally harvested abroad.

Of course, some folks on the Hill were grousing that it sounds as if the panel has reached a conclusion on the query posed in the hearing title (conservatives have blasted the Lacey law after federal agents raided the Gibson guitar company, which was suspected of using illegally harvested timber).

Seems to fit into an emerging trend among hearing titles, perhaps best exemplified by hearings put on by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, who has a flair for catchy titles — and, perhaps for some observers, foregone conclusions. Recent ones have included “The IRS: Targeting Americans for Their Political Beliefs” and “Security Failures in Benghazi.”

Our question: Who needs subtlety?

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.