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

Print
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.