Federal officials have been criticized after spending $3.3 billion on fancy new office furniture during the pandemic, when nearly all staff were working from home.
The US government’s egregious spending spree included nearly $250,000 on solar-powered picnic tables for the CDC, and $120,000 on soft leather chairs from Ethan Allen.
A report from the regulator found that more than $1 billion a year was spent on lavish furnishings for federal spaces between 2020 and 2022, while only a fraction of workers entered the office amid Covid-19 lockdown restrictions , according to the New York Post.
Revelations about the massive splurge come as lawmakers in Congress have debated unfettered federal spending in recent months as the government reels from a shutdown.
Nearly $250,000 was spent on solar-powered picnic tables at the CDC
The US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, spent $120,000 on soft leather chairs
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (pictured at the Document Management Center in Washington DC) spent $15 million on new furniture – which amounts to $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees
Details of the spending binge were revealed on Tuesday in an investigation by taxpayer watchdog OpenTheBooks, which drew a stark contrast between the expensive furniture and the empty office spaces. Government Accountability Office Report.
The July 2023 report found that in 17 of 24 federal agencies, office capacity fell to just nine percent this year and only to 49 percent.
These levels were even lower during the pandemic; But while many would see this as an opportunity to reduce costs, federal budgets kept up with their pre-Covid spending pace with a slew of expensive renovations.
One of the most maddening purchases was the $237,960 spent on electric picnic tables to be installed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offices from 2020 to 2022.
Similarly, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency spent nearly $250,000 on high-end Herman Miller furniture.
The Environmental Protection Agency also spent $6.5 million on a new facility, despite reportedly moving to a much smaller 300,000-square-foot office space in Pennsylvania at the same time.
Opulent interior design isn’t just for those living in the DC area either, with luxury leather recliners by Ethan Allen worth $120,000 thought to be worth it for the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The watchdog pointed to a particularly “egregious example” sure to send frugal lawmakers into an uproar, as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation spent $15 million on new furnishings — which amounts to $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees.
Of all federal agencies, the least cost-conscious was the Pentagon, which recorded the highest spending rate with a whopping $1.2 billion on new furniture.
By comparison, $408 million was spent by the Department of Justice, $302 million by the Department of State, and $155 million by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Pentagon topped the list of the federal government’s least cost-conscious agencies and renovated its offices during the pandemic with more than $1.2 billion in equipment
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation spent $15 million on new furniture, which amounts to $14,400 for each of its $1,000 employees. Pictured: Gordon Hartogensis, director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, center, holds the leadership meeting on March 14, 2023, at the PBGC’s new office in Washington, D.C.
The exorbitant spending has come to light just days after Republican lawmakers in Washington narrowly avoided a government shutdown, with federal spending a key point of contention.
However, the political bickering over furniture costs is not limited to the halls of Congress. It also extended to the Republican presidential debate stage last week, when Sen. Tim Scott accused Nikki Haley of spending more than $50,000 on new curtains.
Haley dismissed the idea that she had wasted taxpayer money to spruce up her New York home, claiming that President Obama’s administration had purchased the curtains.
Speaking about his company’s findings, Adam Andrezwjewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks, said the report should serve as a foundation to increase scrutiny of federal spending as the topic is in the spotlight in DC.
“As Congress continues to fight over spending, we want to make clear that enormous amounts of money are being appropriated, spent, wasted and sometimes hidden from taxpayers,” Andrzejewski told The Post.
“In the case of office furniture, most federal headquarters are barely a quarter full on a workday, and no major agency is at more than half capacity.
“Yet for some reason we’ve invested another billion dollars in desks, chairs, couches and more, while employees clock in from their own living rooms.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency spent nearly $250,000 on high-end Herman Miller furniture
The pandemic-induced work-from-home boom was initially hailed by some as a step forward when it first arrived on the scene, allowing staffers to avoid the energy-consuming commute to the office.
But the promise of extra productivity failed to materialize in many sectors, with companies losing huge sums of money as the value of their office space plummeted.
In New York, the value of office buildings in the city fell by almost 45 percent in 2020 as the pandemic hit.
That same year, nearly $456 billion was wiped off office space valuations nationwide as a result of new work habits.
As valuations plummeted, the federal government’s drive to keep up with its fancy decoration spending has led House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington to condemn the government’s waste.
“Excessive spending on luxury furnishings while more than half of the federal workforce was telecommuting is merely symptomatic of a culture of wasteful spending that has plagued Washington DC for decades,” he said in response to the OpenTheBooks report.
For many agencies, using their budgets effectively and saving taxpayer money could risk ending up with a smaller budget when Congress reassesses at the end of the budget year, a dynamic Arrington said leads to unlimited waste.
“The ‘use it or lose it’ policy encourages unnecessary spending because agencies are punished rather than rewarded if they don’t spend all their year-end funds, he added.
“This is just one of many perverse incentives driving irresponsible spending at our nation’s Capitol – and it must end.”