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Do Expiring Budgets Lead to Wasteful Year-End Spending? Evidence from Federal Procurement

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  • Liebman, Jeffrey B.

    (Harvard University)

  • Mahoney, Neale

    (University of Chicago)

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    Abstract

    Many organizations have budgets that expire at the end of the fiscal year. Faced with uncertainty over future spending demands, these organizations have an incentive to build up a rainy day fund over the first part of the year. If demand does not materialize, they must rush to spend these resources on low quality projects at the end of the year. We test these predictions using data on procurement spending by the U.S. federal government. Using contract-level data on a near-universe of federal contracts, we document that spending in the last week of the year is 4.9 times higher than the rest-of-the-year weekly average. Using a newly available dataset that tracks the quality of $130 billion in information technology (I.T.) projects, we show that quality scores for year-end projects are 2.2 to 5.6 times more likely to be below the central value. Allowing agencies to roll over unused funding into the subsequent year can improve efficiency. We calibrate a dynamic model of spending and show that allowing rollover leads to welfare gains of up to 13 percent, and that intermediate policies can achieve a large portion of these gains. We document that the one federal agency that has the ability to roll over unused funding for I.T. projects does not exhibit a year-end spike in spending or drop-off in quality in this category of spending.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp13-038.

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    Date of creation: Oct 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp13-038

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    1. William P. Rogerson, 1994. "Economic Incentives and the Defense Procurement Process," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 65-90, Fall.
    2. Narayana Kocherlakota, 2004. "Figuring out the Impact of Hidden Savings on Optimal Unemployment Insurance," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 7(3), pages 541-554, July.
    3. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Burhanettin Kuruscu & Aysegul Sahin, 2002. "Unemployment insurance and the role of self-insurance," Discussion Papers 0102-27, Columbia University, Department of Economics.
    4. Freixas, Xavier & Guesnerie, Roger & Tirole, Jean, 1985. "Planning under Incomplete Information and the Ratchet Effect," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 173-91, April.
    5. Lars Ljungqvist & Thomas J. Sargent, 2004. "Recursive Macroeconomic Theory, 2nd Edition," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 2, volume 1, number 026212274x, December.
    6. Paul Oyer, 1998. "Fiscal Year Ends And Nonlinear Incentive Contracts: The Effect On Business Seasonality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(1), pages 149-185, February.
    7. Cardon, James H. & Showalter, Mark H., 2001. "An examination of flexible spending accounts," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(6), pages 935-954, November.
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