Day 322/365 - Kilroy Was Here
For this week's self-portrait we have me sitting in my office behind the sixty-two grant files currently piled on my desk awaiting legal review. To be honest, I had to hunker down a little to get the "Kilroy" effect. When I sat up straight my chin rested on the stack. Hmm, it's looking like I should've put my camera in the 'backlighting' mode.
This is my busiest time of year at work. The government's fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. The bulk of the money Congress appropriates to each agency (it's sort of like our allowance) is categorized as one-year money. That means you only have until the end of the fiscal year to spend it or it all goes back into the Treasury. Congress can also appropriate multi-year money, which is good for a fixed period of years, and no-year money, which is good forever. Everybody wants no-year money. It's the holy grail of appropriated funds. The only no-year money my agency gets is for our loan programs.
Because the bulk of our money expires at the end of the fiscal year, there is always a mad rush in August and September to hurry up and spend it before we lose it. Each file stacked in front of me in the photo above represents one earmark grant and each is funded with one-year money. These are special grants mandated by Congress that are added to our appropriations bill every year. They are the "pork" projects you hear people complaining about. They funnel federal funds to various congressperson's districts for a host of projects, some of which have some relationship to my agency's mission and some of which have nothing to do with nothing.
In the past, we have been directed to provide grants for such diverse projects as an aquarium on Long Island, a museum of jazz in New York City, a fiber optic cabling project in the Pacific Northwest, a storefront and on-line catalog featuring products made by local craftspeople in West Virginia, and an effort to promote sites related to the feud between Hatfields and McCoys to potential tourists. When I first started practicing grants law, my agency would only get 30-40 earmark grants a year, but the number has steadily increased. This year we received over 240 grants totalling in excess of $80 million.
We hate these things. They're a pain in the ass and Congress doesn't give us any extra money to administer them, so we just keep getting stretched thinner and thinner. There was a moratorium on them in 2007 and we were soooooo happy. Most of the organizations that receive these earmarks have no idea what they are doing when it comes to the federal grant process, so getting them to the point where they are legally sufficient can be pretty labor intensive. In addition to the ones currently piled up on my desk, there are still about 130 more that I'm going to have to clear by September 30th that haven't made their way over to my office yet. This is why I can never take vacation in August or September. I'm the only grants law attorney we've got. Oh well, it keeps me employed anyhow.
(August 26, 2009)