Booze expenses at State Department leave taxpayers with mega-hangover
While most of the federal government has been engaged in belt-tightening since the sequestration cut into everyone’s budget, it’s party time at the State Department when it comes to alcohol purchases.
During fiscal year 2012 alone, the State Department spent a walloping $415,000 on liquor purchases — three times that of 2008. In September — the final month of the fiscal year — its tab was $180,000, according to The Washington Times.
Those final month’s nightcaps included, The Times reported:
$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.
A last minute spending spree is typical of all agencies at all levels of government. It’s the fear that if the money budgeted for the year isn’t spent, it’ll be deducted from the following year’s budget.
“This is what taxpayers don’t understand,” Dave Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance 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.”
Although the $415,000 in alcohol purchases represents a mere afterthought in the $17 trillion national debt, the symbolism of a bar tab like that leaves the average taxpayer with a head-pounding hangover.
“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,” Williams said. “It’s symbolic.”
In typical government-speak, a State Department representative told The Times in a statement “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.”
The Times reported:
Not all embassies opted for booze as a diplomatic gesture. The embassy in Athens spent $7,300 on books by photographer Ansel Adams for Christmas gratuities, while the Tokyo embassy spent more than $50,000 on boxes of chocolates for holiday gratuities, records show. Then again, the Tokyo embassy also spent more than $22,000 on wine about a week before the shutdown began.
“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 to the Times continued.