Government Accountability Office

Rollover Budgeting: Ensuring Essential Spending Without Waste

I was first introduced to the reality of "use it or lose it" spending in the first year I began my government service as an enlisted U.S. Marine in 1993. This first experience involved being handed a government credit card, an internal SERVMART account, and was then directed to go to the self-service store to spend every last dollar remaining in the account on whatever was available, which was approximately $2,500. As a young man fresh in the military, it seemed very wrong to intentionally spend money for things my unit did not need. Every person in the decision making process was entirely aware that the purpose was to ensure that the balance of the account was $0, and no single person at my unit or any other felt there was anything unlawful or unethical in this practice - it was, and still is today, simply the way the system is set up. The GAO has published reports on end of year spending in 1980 ("Hurry-Up Spending") and again in 1998 ("Year-End Spending"). In 2011 there seems to be no change in the way money is spent in the last quarter of each fiscal year in any branch of government I have worked for or with. While previous recommendations have placed emphasis on oversight of contracting and procurement, I recommend that what is lacking is accountability at the level where the spending is executed. An incentive for saving budgeted funds needs to be available at every level of responsibility where funds may be spent. I propose, therefore, that a maximum percentage of funding, perhaps 10%, should be allowed to be reserved for execution in a future year, and the maximum number of years forward should be limited to no more than the 3rd year after the savings were realized. This would incentivize procurement for needed goods and services and eliminate unnecessary spending in every department across the Federal Government in a measureable way, estimating between 1-5% overall spending reduction targeted directly at "wasteful" spending, not needed expenditures.

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Idea No. 12307