May 31, 2016
I’m still trying to figure out how exactly it happens. How do you give someone billions of dollars and not check up on how it’s spent?
The government watchdog group OpentheBooks.com released some ugly data, detailing the fact that over the last decade, the Environmental Protection Agency spent $94.2 million on office furniture. We can’t fix Medicaid, we can’t fund healthcare for veterans, we can’t even give our soldiers the weapons they need to fight a 21st century war. But we sure can spend on comfortable chairs.
Actually, the chairs don’t even look that comfortable. You can go to HermanMiller.com, type in scissor chair and see what $2,683 per item will buy. Now I’m the first to admit I’m a penny pincher. I have a hard time spending more than $50 on furniture. I can’t even imagine dropping more than $2,000 on one piece. That’s the thing. It’s not enough the EPA spent money on new furniture. They had to go to designer companies, where things cost an insane amount. The swivel chairs you use at work? How much did they cost, $50? The EPA bought a set for $730 each. A pencil drawer, a simple case that holds the items, they spent $813.57 for each one.
And yet, the department and its supporters say the $8.139 billion budget isn’t enough. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said more money was needed to work on improving air quality, climate change and the health impacts of toxic chemicals. Without a budget increase, McCarthy told Congress, that couldn’t happen.
"The proposed budget of $8.6 billion seeks to further key work in addressing climate change and improving air quality, protecting our water, safeguarding the health and safety of the public from toxic chemicals, supporting the environmental health of communities, and working toward a sustainable environmental future for all Americans," reads the EPA’s note to Congress, explaining why the department needs the extra money.
Now see, I look at all this and I do the math. You need at least $46.1 million more than Congress allocated, but you’ve had enough money over the last decade, roughly $9.4 million per year, to buy furniture. Maybe spend that on the actual needs and just go buy a regular chair? I mean, what could $94.2 million buy? You could more effectively monitor coal ash facilities by hiring more inspectors, so there’s not another coal ash spill like across the border in Eden or a situation like in Durango, Colorado last fall. Even if you hired extra inspectors for each of the 50 states, that wouldn’t add up to more than $10 million. The EPA wants to expand emissions testing, but doesn’t know how it could be funded. You know, I think that $94.2 million could help. It’s hard to argue that the EPA is looking out for the environment, when some of their largest purchases have been hardwood tables and a few sets of chairs. And now they want more money, with no restrictions on what to spend it on? I’m sure that’s all about addressing climate change and has nothing to do with buying a new $4,500 designer couch.
Instead of constantly looking for more money and increasing the budget, a tiny bit of oversight could have put a stop to this. You want to spend the money? Great, you’re restricted to only items needed in your field. Want new furniture? Do what the rest of us do and find cheaper options.
A new bill filed by Virginia Sen. Mark Warner could help with the problem. If nothing else, it could make it easier to learn about the wasteful spending. His proposal, which made it out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, would reward federal employees for reporting wasteful spending. All total, "federal employees who identify unneeded or surplus funds will be eligible for a bonus worth 10 percent of the savings, up to $10,000," the bill states.
Once the waste is identified and Congress puts a stop to the spending, the remaining money goes to the U.S. Treasury, to help pay down our massive debt, which stood at $19.269 trillion as of Tuesday afternoon. I’m not a huge fan of giving tax dollars away like this, but we’re at a point where we have to motivate people to come forward by giving them some type of incentive. It’s clear that departments aren’t pulling back spending on their own.
The U.S. debt situation can easily be fixed by trimming back on things like this. We don’t need to spend ourselves out of trouble, we just need to budget better. And stop buying scissor chairs.
Brian Carlton is the editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BCarltonMTV