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.

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications:, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 Scott

In the environment I've worked in for the past 14+ years.... IT is the 'newcomer to the budget block', hence has never had an adequate budget to perform the mission. Other departments have more seniority, have existed longer, so get the lions share of the budget... even thought they really don't need that amount of funds anymore. Instead of re-allocating the funds more appropriately.... when year end rolls around... IT spends the other department 'left over' funds for them, so they don't lose it from their budget the next year. This of course causes the IT budget never to be increased.

Tue, Sep 21, 2010

Ahhh, the more things change the more they remain the same.

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 John Slye INPUT

There’s a story in the available data we have about how the fed is actually spending. If we look at reported IT obligations through FPDS there has been a consistent trend for more than a decade. An increasing percentage of the yearly IT spend has been shifting to the final quarter of the fiscal year – culminating in the September spending spree. More than 30% of all obligations now hit in Q4. We are talking about roughly $25 billion of an $80 billion federal IT budget getting spent in just a few weeks.

This could be the result of many things – ineffective planning, competing priorities, stalled decisions, insufficient acquisition staffing . . . the list goes on. And in an era of stalled appropriations and continuing resolutions that often push budget approvals well into Q2, agencies simply may be playing catch-up. But whatever the reason, it doesn’t appear that the Q4 spending spree is going away anytime soon.

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