Today Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Dr. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), current and former chair of the Senate subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture; Commerce; Defense; Education; Energy; Health & Human Services; Homeland Security; Housing & Urban Development; Interior; Justice; State; Transportation; Treasury; and Veterans Affairs, requesting additional information on the amount of unspent federal funds. The Senators noted that a 2009 GAO report found that in 2006 the amount of unspent federal grant funding totaled $1 billion and the information on current levels of unspent federal grant funding --especially considering the current debate over how to reduce the federal deficit -- could be instructive when making decisions about federal funding moving forward.
"As Congress and the Administration work together on the difficult task of addressing our federal deficit and reducing federal spending we can leave no stone unturned as we look for unutilized or underutilized federal funds," said Sen. Carper. "I am constantly looking for ways to reduce our budget deficit and taking a good, hard look at federal funds Congress has appropriated but have not yet been spent seems like a logical place to start -- especially if we're talking about a billion dollars or more in unspent funds annually. Everything I do I know I can do better. Similarly, the federal government can do better by ensuring that every dollar it receives is being spent in the most efficient and effective way possible. If we're leaving millions or even a billion dollars in accounts where they're just collecting dust and not serving the people that seems like a poor way to utilize scarce taxpayer dollars. I look forward to hearing from the Administration about whether or not this problem still exists and if it does exist, working with them to find better ways to use the taxpayer dollars with which we've been entrusted."
A copy of the letter to the Government Accountability Office follows:
February 17, 2011
VIA U.S. MAIL & EMAIL (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20548
Dear General Dodaro,
In August 2008, GAO issued a report to the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee entitled "GRANTS MANAGEMENT: Attention Needed to Address Undisbursed Balances in Expired Grant Accounts." According to its findings, up to $1 billion in federal grants remain unspent from year to year and that number has grown dramatically in recent years. GAO found "the quarterly amount of undisbursed funding reported as remaining in expired grant accounts increased from about $600 million in 2003 to about $1 billion during 2006."
GAO recommendedthe Office of Management and Budget (OMB) "instruct all executive departments and independent agencies to track undisbursed balances in expired grant accounts and report on the resolution of this funding in their annual performance plan and Performance and Accountability Reports." According to the GAO report, "OMB said it supported the intent of our recommendations but did not specify whether it would implement them."
We are writing to request an updated analysis to determine:
1)The actions, if any, OMB and federal department and agencies have taken to track undisbursed grant funds;
2)The current amount of undisbursed funding remaining in all expired grant accounts;
3)The amount of these undisbursed funds that has remained unspent for at least five years and the amount that has remained for ten years or more.
If you have any questions regarding this request, please do not hesitate to contact us or Keith Ashdown of Dr. Coburn's staff at 202-224-5543 or John Kilvington of Senator Carper's staff at 202-224-7155.
Thank you for your continued work on behalf of Congress and the American taxpayers.
Tom Coburn, M.D.
Sen. Thomas Carper
A copy of the letter to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture; Commerce; Defense; Education; Energy; Health & Human Services; Homeland Security; Housing & Urban Development; Interior; Justice; State; Transportation; Treasury; and Veterans Affairs follows:
February 17, 2011
VIA U.S. MAIL & EMAIL (email@example.com)
The Hon. Thomas Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Jamie L. Whitten Building
1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 200-A
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
With our national debt poised to reach its $14.3 trillion limit within the very near future, taxpayers expect us to work together to reduce wasteful and unnecessary spending and be more vigilant about how we spend public funds.
It makes sense to begin by examining cuts in spending where federal funding has exceeded the need or ability to spend the amount provided.
Up to $1 billion in federal grants remain unspent from year to year according to a recent financial analysis by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and that number has grown dramatically in recent years. GAO found "the quarterly amount of undisbursed funding reported as remaining in expired grant accounts increased from about $600 million in 2003 to about $1 billion during 2006." "This is a lot of money and much of it is sitting there gathering dust," notes Stanley J. Czerwinski, GAO's director for strategic issues.
Some of these grants, totaling millions of dollars, have remained unspent for decades. Some examples include:
o Massachusetts has received $135 million in federal funds for bike and pedestrian projects since 1991, of which it has spent little more than $51 million, according to The Boston Globe. That means nearly two-thirds of the funds provided in the last two decades by Congress to the state for such projects remain unspent.
o San Diego, California has received so much Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) it has been unable to spend it. "Last year the city got more than $16 million--but it didn't spend it. Some of the grant money has been sitting on the books for nearly 20 years," according to KPBS Public Broadcasting. The report, entitled "An Unlikely Problem For San Diego: Too Much Money," also noted "the city currently has a $30 million balance in its federal line of credit."
o In Sioux City, Iowa, $386,429 of a federal Urban Development Action grant awarded in the 1980s remains unspent. "Money in the fund has not been used for five or six years," according to The Sioux City Journal.
o About $5 billion of the estimated $19.5 billion during the eRate program's first nine years was not spent, according to a 2009 report from the GAO. Some of these funds, intended for schools and libraries, date back as far as 1998.
We respectfully request that you provide an itemized list of all grant funds, both appropriated and mandatory, provided by the Department in any fiscal years prior to Fiscal Year 2002 that remain unspent. For each grant, please provide the amount of unspent funds, the program from which the grant was awarded, and the year(s) in which the funds were provided.
We request that this information be provided to our offices in a searchable electronic format no later than April 4, 2011.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions regarding this request, please do not hesitate to contact us or Keith Ashdown of Dr. Coburn's staff at 202-224-5543 or John Kilvington of Senator Carper's staff at 202-224-7155.
Sen. Thomas Carper
Tom Coburn, M.D.
"GRANTS MANAGEMENT; Attention Needed to Address Undisbursed Balances in Expired Grant Accounts," Government Accountability Office, August 2009, Page 10; http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08432.pdf.
Miles Moffeit, "Unspent federal grants included millions to Colo.," The Denver Post, January 23, 2009; http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_11532743.
 Alan Wirzbicki, "$80m in US funds for bike projects unspent in Mass.; State ranks last, tapping 37% of grants since 1991," The Boston Globe, April 14, 2009; http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/04/14/80m_in_us_funds_for_bike_projects_unspent_in_mass/.
Joanne Faryon, "An Unlikely Problem For San Diego: Too Much Money," KPBS Public Broadcasting, February 2, 2011; http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/feb/02/unlikely-problem-sd-too-much-money-bank/.
 Lynn Zerschling, "Museum gets $150K city grant to replace panels," Sioux City Journal, November 16, 2010;
 Dennis Pierce, "Unused eRate funding totals billions; More than 25 percent of funding commitments are not claimed, GAO says," eSchool News, May 19, 2009; http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=58762.