On the eve of the government shutdown, the State Department was consumed with a very different budget crisis of its own: purchasing vast amounts of booze for American embassies around the globe.
According to Jim McElhatton of The Washington Times, the embassy in Moscow splurged on $15,900 in bourbon and whiskey; the Tokyo embassy, partial to wine, placed an order for $22,416. The embassy in Rio de Janeiro spent $5,625 on gratuity wine on September 29 and, on the day of the shutdown, opted for stronger gratuity whisky at $5,925.
The booze buying binge ran up a tab of $180,000 for the month of September. Alcohol is a fixture at diplomatic functions, and it is appropriate to have a stock on hand, but the State Department’s booze budget has ballooned since 2009—tripling in cost during President Obama’s tenure.
The Washington Times reported that the annual budget for 2008 was $118,000 and jumped to nearly $300,000 in 2011. It peaked at $415,000 in 2012, with the total for 2013 coming in at $400,000.
All this liquor and wine requires proper drinkware, of course. Thus, the State Department raced to fill an order of $5 million just hours before the shutdown, buying 12,000 pieces of hand-blown crystal glassware—retailing up to $85 per glass.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D–VT), the chairman of the subcommittee that exercises oversight on the State Department’s funding, said of the purchase that “it is wonderful to have such an exquisite example of Vermont craftsmanship on display and in use in our embassies around the world.”
The State Department fully embraced the spirit of “use it or lose it” season in Washington when it awarded a contract to American Sean Scully to install a $1 million granite statue at the London embassy. The British are not impressed, with the Daily Mail suggesting that Scully’s work “resembles stacked piles of paving stones.”
The mission of the State Department, as defined on the agency’s website, is to “[c]reate a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” It is hard to see how the recent spending surge is critical to that mission. Americans have traditionally valued thriftiness—a practice that is much in need of revival considering our budgetary woes. Considering the above expenditures, a good place for Congress to start might be the State Department.
Matthew Sabas is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.