By Will Potter | Published at DailyMail.co.uk
- Federal budgeters kept up with pre-pandemic spending to deck out office spaces during Covid-19
- While almost all employees worked from home, over $3.3 billion was spent on items including solar-powered picnic tables
- The egregious spending comes as Washington lawmakers grapple over spending as the government teeters over a shutdown
Federal officials have been criticized after splashing $3.3 billion on swanky new office furniture during the pandemic, when almost all staff worked from home.
The egregious spending habits of the US government included almost $250,000 on solar-powered picnic tables for the CDC, and $120,000 on plush Ethan Allen leather chairs.
A bombshell watchdog report found that over $1 billion a year was spent on lavish décor for federal spaces between 2020 and 2022, while just a fraction of employees made their way into the office amid Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, according to the New York Post.
Revelations over the huge splurge come as lawmakers in Congress have sparred in recent months over unfettered federal spending as the government teeters over a shutdown.
Almost $250,000 was spent on solar-powered picnic tables at the CDC.
The US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan splashed $120,000 on plush leather chairs.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (pictured in the Document Management Center in Washington DC) spent $15 million on new furniture - equivalent to $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees.
Details of the spending sprees were revealed Tuesday in a study from taxpayer watchdog OpenTheBooks, which drew a stark contrast between the pricey furniture and empty office spaces cited a Government Accountability Office report.
The July 2023 report found that in 17 of the 24 federal agencies, office capacity dipped as low as nine percent and only as high as 49 percent this year.
These levels were even lower during the pandemic; but while many would see this as a chance to cut costs, federal budgeters kept up with their pre-Covid spending pace with a slew of expensive refurbishments.
Among the most maddening purchases was $237,960 spent on electric picnic tables to be installed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offices in the 2020 to 2022 timeframe.
Similarly, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency spent almost $250,000 on high-end Herman Miller furniture.
The Environmental Protection Agency also forked out $6.5 million for new décor, despite reportedly moving to a far smaller 300,000 square foot office space in Pennsylvania at the same time.
Lavish interior design is not just for those near DC either, with upmarket leather reclining armchairs from Ethan Allen worth $120,000 deemed worth it for the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The watchdog pointed to one especially 'egregious example' sure to send frugal lawmakers wild, as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation spent $15 million on new furniture - equivalent to $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees.
Among all federal agencies, the least cost-conscious was The Pentagon, which marked the highest spending rate with a staggering $1.2 billion on new furniture.
In comparison, $408 million was spent by the Department of Justice, $302 million by the State Department, and $155 million by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Pentagon topped the list of the federal government's least cost-conscious agencies, refurbing its offices with over $1.2 billion in kit during the pandemic.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation spent $15 million on new furniture, equivalent to $14,400 for each of its $1,000 employees.
The exorbitant spending has come to light just days after Republican lawmakers in Washington barely averted a government shutdown, with federal spending a key point of contention.
Political handwringing over furniture costs is not confined to the halls of Congress, however, as it spilled over to the Republican presidential debate stage last week when Senator Tim Scott accused Nikki Haley on splashing out over $50,000 on new curtains.
Haley rejected the notion she wasted taxpayers' money to jazz up her New York residence, claiming that President Obama's administration bought the drapes.
Speaking upon his company's findings, OpenTheBooks CEO and founder Adam Andrezwjewski said the report should serve as a foundation to increase oversight in federal spending while the topic is in the spotlight in DC.
'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,' Andrzejewski told The 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, couches and more — while employees clock in from their own living rooms.'
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's splurged almost $250,000 on high-end Herman Miller furniture.
The work-from-home boom forced by the pandemic was initially hailed by some as a step forward when it first came on the scene, allowing staffers to avoid energy-sapping commutes into the office.
But the promise of extra-productivity was not realized in many sectors, while businesses lost huge sums of money as the value of their office spaces plummeted.
In New York, property values of office buildings in the city declined nearly 45 percent in 2020, when the pandemic hit.
That same year, nearly $456 billion was wiped off office space valuations across the nation due to the new working habits.
While valuations plummeted, the federal government's insistence on keeping up with its ritzy decoration spending has led House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington to condemn the government's wasteful ways.
'Excessive spending on luxurious furniture when more than half the federal workforce was teleworking is just 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, effectively using their budgets and saving taxpayer money may risk ending up with a smaller budget when Congress reassesses at the end of the fiscal year, a dynamic Arrington said leads to unfettered waste.
'The ‘use it or lose it’ policy encourages unnecessary spending because agencies are penalized, instead [of] rewarded, for not spending all their end-of-year funds,' he added.
'This is just one of the many perverse incentives that drive irresponsible spending in our nation’s Capitol — and it has to stop.'