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

  • Liebman, Jeffrey B.

    (Harvard University)

  • Mahoney, Neale

    (University of Chicago)

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    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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    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
    Date of revision:
    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. 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.
    3. Atila Abdulkadiroglu & Burhanettin Kuruscu & Aysegul Sahin, 2002. "Unemployment Insurance and the Role of Self-Insurance," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(3), pages 681-703, July.
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    5. Lars Ljungqvist & Thomas J. Sargent, 2004. "Recursive Macroeconomic Theory, 2nd Edition," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 2, volume 1, number 026212274x, June.
    6. Narayana Kocherlakota, 2010. "Figuring out the impact of hidden savings on optimal unemployment insuranc," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000291, David K. Levine.
    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.
    8. 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.
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