- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2014

Move over, “Animal House,” Hollywood’s got nothing on the federal government when it comes to buying booze.

Federal spending records show the government spends seven-figures a year stocking its cabinets with wine, beer and liquor.

In fiscal 2013, the last year for which there are complete records, the government spent almost $1.3 million on alcohol, more than quadruple the $315,000 spent in 2005. The spending on liquor has increased over the years toward the $1 million mark, with 2013’s tab growing more than $400,000 over 2012.


“You could say that Washington’s quite literally drunk on other people’s money,” said Jonathan Bydlak, president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, a fiscal watchdog that advocates reduced federal expenditures.

“It’s very symbolic of the kind of problem we have in a whole host of government areas,” he said. “Obviously, the government operates in an environment with very few restraints. So unlike a business or a nonprofit, when they want to purchase for an event, they have to weigh it against expenses that people in government don’t.”

The most egregious examples of government waste, fraud or abuse from TWT staff. (Golden Hammer cropped logo)
The most egregious examples of government waste, fraud or abuse from TWT ... more >

Thus, the federal government’s liquor purchases receive this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal mismanagement, wasteful spending and abuse.

The good news is that since the 2014 fiscal year began in October, the feds might be sobering up their liquor spending. Early records suggest alcohol purchases have been averaging about $50,000 a month, roughly half the monthly amount for the same period last year.

But this year’s records are far from complete.

Such spending usually increases in September, the end of the federal fiscal year, when agencies are known to blow through the rest of their unspent budgets so they won’t lose any funding.

The Washington Times reported in December that the State Department purchased $180,000 in liquor in September to stock embassy cabinets, right before the partial federal government shutdown. All told, the State Department last year purchased more than $400,000 in alcohol — more than triple the amount it bought in 2008.

Embassies overseas commonly host events and use liquor as a social lubricant, but the expense shows an increase in lavish spending that far outpaces inflation. The consumer price index has risen 40 points from 2005 to 2014 — roughly a 40 percent increase in prices and a far cry from the quadrupling of government purchases — according to information from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“This hits home because it relates to your own experiences and the way you would cut down on expenses in a situation like this,” Mr. Bydlak said. “When someone’s out of work or generally struggling to get by, they understand that they have to cut back on these kinds of expenses.”

Many of the State Department liquor purchases are used as “gratuities” for foreign officials and other people with whom the embassy works.

State Department representatives did not return calls seeking comment. But in 2010, when The Times inquired about an uptick in the purchases of alcohol, the agency said in a statement that the gifts often help the diplomatic process.

“The United States wishes to make the best impression in its dealings with foreign governments and other groups and carries out lawfully its representational activities, including its diplomatic receptions, in as effective and as culturally appropriate a manner as possible,” the statement said.

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