Is it possible to use current year funds to reserve a booth, even though the event will not take place until the following fiscal year, to take advantage of a price break?
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The Bona Fide Need rule (law) requires appropriated funds be used only for goods and services for which a need arises during the period of that appropriation’s availability for obligation. The rule is silent in the matter of obligating current funds to obtain a discount on goods or services in the future when (a) the goods are actually needed and (b) when the obligated funds are no longer available for new obligations, i.e., funds are expired or cancelled. Given that the authority raised in your question is not expressly stated as an exception to the Bona Fide Rule, we conclude that you cannot use current funds to take advantage of the discount or otherwise pay for the booth fee. You can, however, pay a general registration/booth fee if the registration deadline is during the current fiscal year for a event next fiscal year."
US Code, Title 31, Section 1502(a) states that, "The balance of an appropriation or fund limited for obligation to a definite period is available only for payment of expenses properly incurred during the period of availability, or to complete contracts properly made within that period of availability and obligated consistent with section 1501 of this title."
Strict interpretation of this law – combined with the appropriation act language – means that the need may arise anytime during the period the appropriation act states the funds are available (e.g., two years for RDT&E or three years for all procurement accounts except Ship Building and Conversion, Navy). However, a Service or Defense Agency has the discretion to limit the “period of the appropriation’s availability” to the first year of that appropriation’s availability. When a Service has placed such a limitation on the use of an appropriation beyond the first year, this is usually for RDT&E and specifically for that part of the appropriation intended for activity operations (e.g., TDY and office supplies) rather than for actual R&D efforts. In reading your question, I'm assuming you are referring to a one year appropriation like O&M. While this interpretation above might be considered more conservative than intended by Congress, it is within the Service or Agency prerogative to be more restrictive than what is allowed by the U.S. Code
My understanding is that a discount for a conference booth does not allow one to use current funds to procure a future "need" ahead of the future appropriation. Even if the price doubles...at what point is the discount permissible 10%...50%...80%?
Which leads me to suggest that you get further guidance from your service comptroller or chain of command for a approval like this."