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Maine Senators Question Department of Defense Memo
08/20/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

Maine's two U.S. senators are not pleased with a memo sent to the Defense Information Systems Agency urging contracting and budget officers to spend all allocated funds before the federal budget year ends Sept. 30. The agency provides information technology services to the military and spends billions of dollars a year on computers, software and related equipment. And, as Mal Leary reports, Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are upset by what they say is an example of government waste.

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The memo was sent out earlier this summer from top officials in the Defense Information Systems Agency warning those responsible for contracting for services and buying equipment and software that a review of spending for the first three quarters of the budget indicated "large unspent balances," and that it was "critical" that all allocated funds be spent.

Sen. Angus King, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is not surprised. "Yeah, I heard about that," he says. "Well, obviously you can't justify that. I mean, you and I have been hearing about memos like that for 40 years. I mean, the whole idea is you've got to spend the money before the end of the year."

Sen. Susan Collins serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and used to serve on the defense panel. She says she's heard of similar spending memos agencies have produced in the past.

"I held hearings many, many years ago on what I call the 'use it or lose it' mentality that is common across the federal government where the Fourth Quarter is coming up and agencies start rushing to get money obligated and spent," she says.

Collins says, while not suprising, the memo is upsetting at a time when the nation faces a serious budget deficit. She points to the impact of sequestration on various federal programs, including many in the military, as a reason to reign in unnecessary spending.

King says he has been assured by the Pentagon's undersecretary for acquisition, Frank Kendall, that the memo does not represent Defense Department policy. King says while he objects to the message in the memo, bureaucrats may have some good reasons to push to make sure some goods or services are acquired.

"This is something you got to figure out, because if they don't spend the money, then Congress says, 'Well, they didn't need the money, so we'll just reduce it,'" he says. "And it may be a question of timing, it may be that they needed the money for the following fiscal year, or something like that. But, look, I am not going to defend a memo that says, 'Spend the money before the fiscal year.' If they don't need the money, they shouldn't spend it, and we ought to take it out of the budget and give a break to the taxpayers."

Collins says complicating the whole matter is that Congress continues to spend on the basis of continuing resolutions, rather than through actual budgets. She says one of the big jobs awaiting Congress next month is passing the appropriations bills to fund the federal government starting Oct. 1. She hopes they will pass, but she fears there will be another continuing resolution.


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