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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press WaPo Busts Ag Department for Spending 0.000004 Percent of the Budget on Toner Cartridges

WaPo Busts Ag Department for Spending 0.000004 Percent of the Budget on Toner Cartridges

Sunday, 29 September 2013 13:00

See, nothing gets by those vigilant super-sleuths at the Washington Post. In yet another front page story highlighting government waste the paper told readers that the Agriculture Department spent almost 0.000004 percent of the budget on toner cartridges, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent 0.000014 percent of the budget on artwork, and the Coast Guard spent 0.000004 percent of the budget on cubicle furniture. Of course the Post didn't tell people how large these items were as a share of the federal budget, instead it told readers that the Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $562,000 on artwork, and the Coast Guard spent $178,000 on cubicle furniture.

These were all end of the fiscal year expenditures. The intention of the paper is clearly to imply that these are examples of wasteful spending but none of the information in the article provides a basis for this assessment. Government office buildings need office furniture, they use printing cartridges, and they also typically have some amount of artwork. This piece provides no evidence whatsoever that these particular expenditures were wasteful, they simply were spending that agencies decided to put through at the end of their fiscal year when they knew they had the money for them.

This may actually have been very prudent spending on the part of the agencies. For example, the Coast Guard may have badly needed new furniture for its cubicles. (Furniture does wear out -- I have been to the WaPo's office, they replace their furniture on occasion.) It may have put off the purchase until it was certain that it could meet its other expenses for the year. Once it was apparent that it had met all essential expenses, the Coast Guard may have then decided to use its remaining funds to buy the needed furniture. This would be very rational budgeting, not evidence of waste.

The whole piece is trying to make a scandal when it really has no evidence to show anything of the sort. That might have been more apparent to readers if it had written the alleged boondoggle spending as a share of the budget rather than trying to impress people with the size of the expenditures.  

Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Chris E., September 29, 2013 2:25
What a scandal! Talk about hardhitting journalism.
Just trolling
written by Jennifer, September 29, 2013 2:45
Pieces like that are so irritating, they are only put out there to get people going. The things described there are all things everybody knows-printer equipment, furniture, etc- they feel they can judge them. Where the big money and waste is, with corporate contracts, especially for services, those are harder for people to understand and they are written and carried out in more opaque and complex manner.
Also, people seem to have very contradictory ideas of how government should be run. Most people seem to support running the government "like a business", (which is nonsense in many ways). But the expenditures are, as you've described them, not unlike any other business.
written by watermelonpunch, September 29, 2013 2:56
I suppose the Washington Post thinks Veterans' memorials should be done away with because they're supposedly wasteful artwork with no practical purpose.

The coast guard should transition their office culture to sitting on bare floors.

And the agriculture department should get a bunch of H1B visa workers to come & switch their whole operation to be completely paperless & smartphone-ready so they never have to purchase any copier ink.
written by TK421, September 29, 2013 4:33
That money would have been better spent launching a single cruise missile somewhere in the general direction of Syria. Such a waste.
Toner fraud and abuse
written by KeithOK, September 30, 2013 1:14
What does the Washington Post think the Agriculture Department is doing with these toner cartridges that make them wasteful spending? Are they increasing font size so they use up more toner? Printing white on black instead of black on white? Why is it wasteful to buy supplies that you need at the end of the year?
Simply Survival
written by John Parks, September 30, 2013 6:46
Based on dated BLS stats, 2010, there are roughly 1 1/4 million accountants and auditors is the US. Considering what Mr Farenthold considers to be his "Revelations" I have to assume he was not one of them in 2010, and probably not one in 2013.

Even in my backward, remote, and sparsely populated state of Idaho my accountant would have given me a well deserved dope slap if I did not spend the cash today that would be taken tomorrow.

This is not remarkable behavior. In our system, both public and private, it is called enlightened self interest. We,being human, kind of gravitate that direction when given the opportunity.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.