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Fiscal year-end spending: Does 'use it or lose it' still rule?

The 21 Quicksilver e-government initiatives. Lines of business. Enterprise architecture. Strategic sourcing. Since 2001, the Office of Management has championed a number of ideas or programs intended to bring order to federal IT spending. But has it really made a difference?

The end of the fiscal year is a perfect time for a reality check. For years, OMB officials have bemoaned the fact that September usually brings a rush of spending as agency officials look to use up the last of the old fiscal year's funding -- and along the way pick up some nifty new technology.

As a matter of fact, when I was a cub reporter at Federal Computer Week in the early 1990s, the “use-it-or-lose-it” mentality provided a good opportunity to track technology trends. A team of reporters would check in with execs in government and industry to see what products topped that year’s shopping list.

In theory, that wouldn’t work now. Ideally, agencies are planning out their purchases carefully, based on some sort of IT master plan and acquisition strategy. But I can’t help but wonder if that’s the case.

What do you think? Is IT spending more strategic these days, or is the end of September still a shopping extravaganza? Leave your comments below.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Sep 20, 2010 at 12:18 PM

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Mon, Oct 4, 2010

Definitely; it's the Government's way. "Spend a dollar to account for a dime" in order to justify current project and increase in future budget.

Sat, Sep 25, 2010 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

Based on all the contract requests that I see needing to be filled by October 1, I think the end-of-year feeding frenzy is alive and well.

Fri, Sep 24, 2010

Definitely alive and well in our contracting shop. There are no rewards for spending money wisely. If you don't use it, not only do you lose it for the current FY, your future budget is dinged as well. Maybe Dave Ramsey should be in charge of OMB.

Thu, Sep 23, 2010

Federal budget and accounting process is broken, and I see no signs it will ever be fixed. Sometimes, we are literaly spending a dollar to account for a dime. Entire FedGov badly needs ONE standard accounting system and business model to follow, so that much of the year isn't wasted making forecasts and translating data into different formats. We also need to cut WAY down on the number of activities actually spending money. Fewer CC holders and check-writers out there will result in less work for the accountants. Does every little activity really need their own finance shop?

Wed, Sep 22, 2010

Just went through negotiations for our 2011 budget. Due to circumstances beyond our control, some 2010 work did not get here and thus we are way under budget this year. The items are still in the government supply channels and next year we should see that work plus the 2011 work load, but we had our budget cut because we "did not need as much as asked for based upon 2010 actuals". Wonder what they will say when we go over budget next year?

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