US Government's Booze Tab Totals $1.3M for Fiscal 2013

Friday, 21 Mar 2014 11:44 AM

By Joe Battaglia

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Federal records show the government has racked up a seven-figure bar tab.

In fiscal 2013, the government spent nearly $1.3 million on alcohol, more than quadruple the $315,000 spent in 2005, according to The Washington Times. Spending on beer, wine, and liquor in 2013 was up more than $400,000 over the year before.

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The spending has fiscal watchdogs up in arms.

"You could say that Washington's quite literally drunk on other people's money," Jonathan Bydlak, president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, told the Times. "It's very symbolic of the kind of problem we have in a whole host of government areas."

Records show an increase in purchases by the Department of Defense, which, according to Times reporter Phillip Swarts, is used to stock military commissaries, which sell the alcohol to soldiers. But the biggest expenditures are made by the State Department to stock the liquor cabinets of U.S. embassies around the globe and to use as "gratuities" for foreign officials and others.

It's not just the liquor expenditures that seem exorbitant, but also the outlay for glasses in which they are consumed.

According to the Times, the State Department awarded a $5 million contract to a Vermont glass manufacturer to supply all embassies and diplomatic posts with high-quality crystal dinnerware that emits "a sharp high-pitched resonant sound when tapped with a metal object, such as a fork or spoon."

Those items included champagne flutes, brandy snifters, red- and white-wine glasses, sherbet glasses, and finger bowls etched with the State Department logo.

The Times said the State Department did not return telephone calls seeking comment. When the Times asked about alcohol purchases in 2010, the department told the newspaper in a statement, "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."

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn included the Vermont glass contract in his annual "Wastebook" chronicling areas where the government can reduce spending.

In that report he wrote, "If only the State Department was as particular about the performance of its programs as it is about entertaining dignitaries and diplomats."

Other critics say such purchases are often made in September when the clock is ticking on departments and their ability to burn through unspent revenue in their budgets so they won't lose funding the following year. In December, the Times reported that the State Department had purchased nearly $180,000 worth of liquor near the end of the fiscal year.

"This hits home because it relates to your own experiences and the way you would cut down on expenses in a situation like this," 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."

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