Get a Life!: Be thankful the fiscal year ends in September

The race to award contracts and close the books as the fiscal year winds down is a government tradition -- but the September 30 date is fairly recent.

September is the month for government tri-athletes. This is the time when many race to the finish of the fiscal year, churning through final acquisitions and trying not to spin wheels as the books close.

People in budget, accounting and contracting departments forego vacations in September or leave wearily later in the fall. Agencies have tried for as long as I can remember to release all contracting funds before the end the year but still find funds to expend in a flurry in September.

I wondered why the federal government’s fiscal year does not match the calendar year. But it makes sense that it doesn’t given what would happen in December, traditionally a holiday month. It turns out that before 1976, the fiscal year began on July 1 and ended on June 30. But change was made to allow Congress more time to approve the federal budget. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 provided for a transitional quarter from July 1, 1976 to September 30, 1976, and the federal fiscal year changed to October 1 to September 30.

The date for wrapping up financial statements is not the same in other countries. The reporting year for government financial statements in the United Kingdom and Canada is April 1 to March 31. Closing books in March can be tricky in the U.S. because that’s often when kids have spring vacations and families like to take trips. So consider yourself lucky that the change was made to September.