Free Minds & Free Markets

Pentagon Spent $4.6 Million on Lobster Tail and Crab in One Month

Chalk it up to use-it-or-lose-it spending.

Olga Vasylieva/Dreamstime.comOlga Vasylieva/Dreamstime.comThe federal government spends a disproportionate amount of its budget for outside contractors in the final month of the fiscal year, as agencies rush to blow through cash before it's too late. Among the more noteworthy expenditures in 2018, according to the watchdog group Open the Books, was $4.6 million for lobster tail and crab.

Such use-it-or-lose-it spending stems from the fact that each federal agency is given a certain amount of money it can spend on outside contractors for the fiscal year. If the agency comes in under budget, Congress might decide to appropriate less money the following year.

Or as The Office's Oscar Martinez explains to Michael Scott in "The Surplus": "Your mommy and daddy give you $10 to open up a lemonade stand, so you go out and you buy cups and you buy lemons and you buy sugar. And now you find out that it only cost you $9, so you have an extra dollar," he explains. "So you can give that dollar back to mommy and daddy. But guess what: Next summer, and you ask them for money, they're going to give you $9 because that's what they think it cost to run the stand. So what you want to do is spend that dollar on something now, so that your parents think that it cost $10 to run the lemonade stand."

It works the same way at the federal level. Just replace that $10 with $544.1 billion—the amount federal agencies spent on contracts in the last fiscal year.

Of that $544.1 billion, almost $97 billion was spent in September 2018, the final month of the fiscal year, including $53.3 billion in the final seven days of the month. That's compared to $47 billion spent in the entire month of August. As the fiscal year came crashing to an end, bureaucrats apparently did their best to spend as much money as quickly as possible.

The Department of Defense led the pack, spending $61.2 billion in September. The Pentagon was followed not-so-closely by the Department of Health and Human Services ($5.7 billion), the Department of Veterans Affairs ($5.4 billion), and the Department of Homeland Security ($4.2 billion).

Federal agencies spent $402.2 million on food that month, with the Pentagon shelling out $2.3 million on crab and $2.3 million on lobster tail. Also, "agencies spent $2.1 million on games, toys, and wheeled goods," Open the Books notes, as well as "$412,008 on paint and artist's brushes." A whopping $490 million went to furniture, including a baffling $9,341 for a Wexford office chair. Agencies also spent $49,515 for skis and ski poles, $11,816 for a foosball table, and $258,901 on pianos.

The biggest recipients of the contracts were a trio of military companies: Lockheed Martin ($8.3 billion), Boeing ($5.3 billion), and Raytheon ($3.4 billion).

That $97 billion last September represents a 16 percent increase from the $83.7 billion federal agencies spent on contracts in September 2017. The figure was nearly $73.6 billion in 2016 and $69.6 billion in 2015.

In August, a bipartisan group of senators that included Kentucky Republican Rand Paul wrote letters to 13 federal agencies expressing their concerns about wasteful end-of-year spending. Their efforts appear to have failed.

Photo Credit: Olga Vasylieva/

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  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Congress might decide to appropriate less money the following year.


    *deep breath*


  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Except they do, the total money doesn't go down but they do react to successful budgeting by just taking the budget and throwing it elsewhere.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Congress might decide to appropriate less money the following year.

    A notion from a bygone era, where Congress passed budgets instead of continuing resolutions.

    How quaint!

  • Heedless||

    So Congress might decide to appropriate less money for the next three weeks?

  • Rat on a train||

    You want a budget. Fine. Congress will pass a budget with a surplus and promptly ignore it.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Do we have any information about what their butter budget was during the same period?

  • Eddy||

    So, how much tail can you get with $4.6 million?

  • Anomalous||

    Approximately 35 Stormy Danielses.

  • creech||

    Government doesn't use generally accepted accounting principles anyway. It is interesting how this group can find $4 million spent on lobster tails but Pentagon's own internal accountants can't find billions in missing weapons, missing cash, etc. Was it Stockton who opined, back in the early Reagan days, that military spending could be cut 20% without reducing military readiness and capability?

  • JesseAz||

    Are you AOC?

  • soldiermedic76||

    Any veteran will say that the budget could easily he cut without impacting training, troop numbers or equipment. There is so much stupid waste, most of it because of stupid shit the government (generally Congress) makes the military waste money on. Another racket that needs to be fixed is abuse of research and development funds by Congress to benefit their districts. They'll keep adding new demands and drag out projects and just when they've milked it to the limit, and the military finally is ready to field it (though the military would have fielded it years ago) Congress cancels it and brags about saving money. See XM-25 machine cannon, F-22 (price of production was just set to go down dramatically when Obama cancelled it in favor of the F-35 which was supposed to be cheaper but now is far more expensive and less capable). They're other favorite tactic is to force the military to research and develop a weapons system the military doesn't want or need. And then force them to buy it only to have it mothballed and never used.

  • ShotgunJimbo||

    I remember one of the congress critters being questioned on a show (cant remember which one) and they asked him why they gave the pentagon significantly more than they asked for (which you already know it bloated) and his snarky response was basically we know how much they need better than they do. Mind blowing. The amount of waste they keep allowing, and this is just a fraction of the insanely bloated entitlements. None of them should be allowed to control a wallet

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||


  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Does that mean at the end of the fiscal year,
    "You get free insulin!
    You get free insulin!
    You get free insulin"

  • Dillinger||

    >>>concerns about wasteful end-of-year spending. Their efforts appear to have failed.

    wake me when continuing resolutions are discontinued.

  • Trigger Warning||

    *nudges Dillinger's corpse with foot*

  • Trigger Warning||


  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Federal agencies spent $402.2 million on food that month, with the Pentagon shelling out $2.3 million on crab and $2.3 million on lobster tail.

    If you're spending 2.3 million on tail, you have to expect some crabs.

  • BigT||

    Let them eat tail!

  • soldiermedic76||

    This is one of those click bait numbers. Yes the Pentagon probably spent the most but it's also the largest part of the discretionary budget so not surprising. Also $2.3 million dollars on lobster tail considering the size of the military isn't really a lot of lobster (though the only time we ever got lobster or crab was at the end of the year and then only occasionally, we actually had lobster tail at my Basic Training graduation).

  • Ron||

    the solution is to give bonuses for saving but the bonus does have to be less that the amount saved

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    I think the solution is independent audit, and a fraud/waste/abuse department with teeth.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    I'd also add the stick. Any contract manager who approves these expenditures should be fired or suspended without pay. Maybe clawback pension to cover some of the waste.

  • Longtobefree||

    "In August, a bipartisan group of senators that included Kentucky Republican Rand Paul wrote letters to 13 federal agencies expressing their concerns about wasteful end-of-year spending"

    Maybe they should cut the budget instead of writing letters?
    Crazy, I know, but it MIGHT work.

    Oh, wait. that would require actually fulfilling their oath and passing an real, live , genuine budget.

  • Rich||


    Vote out every incumbent.

  • DesigNate||

    I'm pretty sure Rand tried that.

  • Pat001||

    Remember the wailing and hand-wringing over sequestration budget cuts of three percent?

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Just what is a "wheeled good", and why is it collected as a category with "games and toys"?

  • Jerryskids||


  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Fishing pool with custom chrome spinning reel.

  • Agammamon||

    OK, not that you're wrong in your basic premise but, as someone who has rushed at the end of the year to spend his department's remaining budget, I can tell you that at least some of this is spending on secondary items (like office furniture or non-critical maintenance) that has been deliberately deferred to the end of the year to ensure that there will be enough money to do core functions. If there's any money left over, then its spent on replacing older furniture or non-critical building maintenance (say, repainting the walls or filling a pothole in the parking lot). It might be spent on 'experimental' things - a new tool that could make doing your core functions easier, for example.

  • Rat on a train||

    I always enjoyed the Army's training budget.

    Soldier: I want to go to X school this FY.
    Finance: It isn't required and is low priority. We'll see if we can get you funds.

    Soldier: How about that training I requested?
    Finance: Training funds are tight.

    Finance: We have money we need to burn before October. Do you still want to go to that training?
    Soldier: The last class of the FY started last week.

  • soldiermedic76||

    Bingo. Or we have funds left who wants to go to a school that has absolutely nothing to do with your MOS or any unit you will be assigned to.

  • Real Books||

    " $4.6 million for lobster"

    Jordan Peterson is mixed up in this somewhere ...

  • Rob Misek||


  • loveconstitution1789||

    Submariners get top notch food as a perk to stay under water for months on end.

    While this is likely another DoD budget buster waste scheme, sometimes its not what civilians think is going on.

    At the same time, the DoD budget is super bloated and the USA can protect itself very well for hundreds of billions less than we spend now.

  • NashTiger||

    nor are the $400 hammers.

    I saw this up close and personal. when working as a Manufacturers Rep/Distributor for industrial equipment.

    The local base needs some commodity items that normally costs $15, but also want you to supply 100s of pages of paperwork verifying that it meets every ASTM, IEEE, ASME certification.

    You are asked to do hours of extra meaningless work to make a $4 Gross Profit, $2 of which you will see as your sales commission.

    So the price of that item goes up

  • Longtobefree||

    Not to mention those dollars going to black projects her and there; mostly there.

    Hammer $14.95
    Administrative overhead for contract compliance $10.00
    CIA cut $375.05
    Reports show $400 hammer.

  • Agammamon||

    Having seen submarine food - its 'top notch' only compared to what the surface navy was getting. And, frankly, the gap has been closed since the late 90's. Today you could realistically say that surface sailors are getting better food (if only because we can resupply more often since we don't have to enter port to do so).

  • ShotgunJimbo||

    well said, +1

  • Echospinner||

    OK the foosball table. I can see in some circumstances spending money on recreation stuff. We came in under budget so let's spend it. Say you were on a base somewhere and needed a rec room for morale. Great game I grew up playing it. So being the military they spend 3x more than the highest priced pro coin op one than you can get from Amazon.

    Same with the lobster and crab. If it just went to the bigwigs in Washington not OK. If the troops who do the work got a special dinner then I see no big deal about that. Again, good for morale which every officer knows is key to the mission.

    Most of the other stuff same deal. If some top brass fixed up their office with fancy furniture with the budget surplus I have a problem. If they spent it to give something back to the people who work hard and are underpaid that is another thing.

    So hard for me to take it line by line but who had lobster tail? Not all that expensive these days anyway.

  • jerryg1018||

    Nothing new, government agencies have been going on end of the budget year spending sprees for decades. It's routinely done in the private sector too. I worked for a major aerospace company ordering tools and supplies. Near the end of every budget year my general supervisor would tell me how much was left in the budget and to place orders to use it up, lest less money be appropriated in the new budget.

  • antodav||

    Remember kids, if you criticize military expenditures in any way, shape or form, you don't just hate the troops, you hate America. Pentagon budget cuts make Lady Liberty cry and warm Vladimir Putin's cold Russian heart.

  • Longtobefree||

    After all, people on food stamps can buy lobster; why not the military.

    Real question: this is a government wide practice, why did they choose to specify the military in the clickbait headline?
    How about the Education department?

  • IJustWorkHere||

    I used to work at a federal contractor in (of all places) a cost reduction role. Occasionally (very occasionally) a program would be at risk after getting several nasty letters from congress, and they would want a little help to trim some of the fat.

    COST REDUCTION IS LIKE SQUEEZING A BALLOON. IF YOU STOP LOBSTER, THEY'LL BUY SOME OTHER USELESS SHIT. They hope to enjoy the shit they buy, but they'll flush it down the toilet before returning it to the treasury.

    The only way to get people aligned to returning a surplus on their budgets at the end of the year is to have a power structure in charge to make cost saving a priority, usually a CEO/program manager who makes hire/fire/promotion decisions. In this case, we have fucking congress. The only solution is to vote politicians out for allowing it.

  • James Pollock||

    "Pentagon Spent $4.6 Million on Lobster Tail and Crab in One Month"

    Why did it cost so much? We already HAVE the ships, and some of them can even go under the water, where the Lobsters live.

  • Echospinner||

    I remember when Obama said that in the debates with Romney.

    Ships that go under water.

    Boats, they are called boats by long tradition and we have had them since the civil war at least. Jeez.

  • Echospinner||

    Not arguing with you but that Obama quote always irked me.

  • James Pollock||

    "boats" are carried on "ships".

    The only traditions of the Navy are rum and buggery.

    (Do you like the Churchill quote better?)

  • kfcrebus||


  • killboyumeed847548588||

    Your confusion is understandable, but this blog is called The Volokh Conspiracy.

  • Berita Terkini||


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