The Illinois-based government watchdog OpenTheBooks revealed this extravagant spending in a July report. According to the nonprofit, Washington allocated over $1 billion a year for lavish office decor for federal spaces between 2020 and 2022. Interestingly, this money was spent while nearly all staff members were working from home and only a fraction returned to offices due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The report underscored the stark contrast between the costly furniture purchases and underutilized office spaces, a point highlighted in a separate report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). OpenTheBooks cited the GAO's report in its July 2023 paper.
In one instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent nearly $240,000 on solar-powered picnic tables for its offices. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is under the Department of Defense, meanwhile spent almost $250,000 on high-end Herman Miller furniture. The Environmental Protection Agency spent $6.5 million on new decor, despite downsizing to a much smaller office space.
Even the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan did not skimp on interior design – shelling out $120,000 on upscale leather reclining armchairs from Ethan Allen. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's $15 million budget on new furniture was cited as one particularly egregious example, with OpenTheBooks noting that the amount is equivalent to $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees.
The DoD claimed the dubious honor of being the least cost-conscious among all federal agencies, with a staggering $1.2 billion spent on new furniture. By comparison, the Department of Justice spent $408 million; the Department of State $302 million; and the Department of Homeland Security $155 million.
"As Congress continues to fight over spending, we want to make it clear that there are massive amounts of money being appropriated, spent, wasted and sometimes hidden from the taxpayer," OpenTheBooks founder and CEO Adam Andrzejewski told the New York Post.
"In the case of office furniture, most federal headquarters are barely a quarter full on a given workday, and no major agency is at more than half capacity. Yet for some reason, we've bankrolled another billion dollars in desks, chairs, coaches and more – while employees clock in from their own living rooms."
The July 2023 report revealed that in 17 out of 24 federal agencies, office capacity ranged from as low as nine percent to a high of 49 percent this year. These levels were even lower during the pandemic. However, instead of cost-cutting measures, federal budgeters continued their pre-pandemic spending pace with a flurry of expensive office refurbishments.
In response to the findings of his group, Andrzejewski emphasized the need for increased oversight of federal spending, particularly when federal offices remain largely unoccupied. He pointed out that despite federal headquarters being barely a quarter full on an average workday, the government inexplicably invested another billion dollars in office furniture while employees continued to work from their own homes.
The report by OpenTheBooks comes at a time when lawmakers in Congress have been embroiled in debates over excessive federal spending, potentially leading to a government shutdown. This excessive spending has come to light shortly after Republican lawmakers narrowly averted a government shutdown, with federal spending a central point of contention. (Related: NY Rep. Tenney: Biden should slash federal spending amid debt ceiling battle.)
Concerns over furniture costs have also surfaced on the Republican presidential debate stage, with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott accusing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley of spending over $50,000 on new curtains. However, Haley refuted the claim, stating that the drapes were purchased during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
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