While the rest of the federal government was preparing to shut down this fall, the State Department was busy stocking up on embassy liquor supplies, The Washington Times reported
Rather than be left high and dry in September, the final month of the fiscal year, the State Department spent about $180,000, and it racked up a total of more than $400,000 for the whole year —
three times the entire liquor tab for all of 2008.
The Times reported that the liquor bill, which consisted of individual orders from embassies around the world, included some major pre-shutdown splurges:
- $5,625 in "gratuity wine" at the embassy in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 29, followed by $5,925 in "gratuity whiskey" on the day the shutdown began.
- $22,416 in wine at the embassy in Tokyo.
- $15,900 in bourbon and whiskey in Moscow.
U.S. embassies have long served alcohol at diplomatic events in all administrations and economic times.
But the booze bill has risen sharply each year since 2008, according to the federal government's procurement database, which includes a specific code enabling the public to track alcoholic beverage purchase orders.
Those records show the State Department bought $415,000 worth of alcohol in fiscal year 2012, which was 25 percent more than the $331,000 spent in 2011 and more than triple the $118,000 spent in 2008.
Saving a few hundred thousand dollars won't do much to reduce the government's $17 trillion debt, but any increase in taxpayer money spent on booze deserves closer scrutiny in tough fiscal times, Dave Williams, president of the nonprofit Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a watchdog group, told The Times.
The department went on a buying binge just before the partial federal government shutdown and in the final days of the fiscal year. Many federal agencies try to deplete their budgets in the final days of the fiscal year in September, rather than leave money to invite congressional cuts.
"This is what taxpayers don't understand," Williams said. "You have a looming government shutdown, but then you have a 'use-it-or-lose-it' mentality where someone is spending tens of thousands of dollars because they have to.
"If you're a family or a business and you're getting ready for a potential loss of revenue, the first thing you do is get rid of the parties," he said. "It's symbolic."
In a statement to The Times, a State Department representative said, "It would be an oversimplification to look at a subset of purchases made by embassies overseas and draw a conclusion about the department's operational priorities at the time."
Officials explained that funds are spent for representational purposes.
"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 reads.
"The department also does so fully mindful of its duties as the steward of the public resources entrusted to it."
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