New York Post: Feds Spent $3.3B on Furniture While Employees Worked from Home in Pandemic 119_NYPost_-_furniture

October 4, 2023 11:24 AM



By Josh Christenson | Published at New York Post.

The federal government dropped $3.3 billion on new office furniture as the vast majority of its employees worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, a watchdog report exclusively obtained by The Post shows.

Between 2020 and 2022, federal agencies spent more than $1 billion per year on the plush decor — a rate consistent with pre-pandemic levels despite departments filling just a quarter of their available office space on average.

The taxpayer watchdog revealed the furniture splurge in a study published Tuesday, citing a Government Accountability Office report that found 17 of the 24 federal agencies are using as little as 9% and as much as 49% of their building capacities well into the fourth year of the pandemic.

The extravagant purchases included $237,960 on solar-powered picnic tables for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $120,000 on luxurious Ethan Allen leather recliners for the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The Environmental Protection Agency also shelled out $6.5 million on trendy furniture even as it downsized to move into a 300,000 square-foot office space at Four Penn Central in Philadelphia.

In one particularly “egregious example,” the group said the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation spent nearly $15 million on new furniture — or $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees.

OpenTheBooks Founder and CEO Adam Andrzejewski said the audit highlights the need for closer scrutiny of federal spending as Congress considers further government funding in the coming weeks.

“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 House and Senate passed appropriations bills to fund the government at current levels until Nov. 17 before long-term spending legislation must be considered.

House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) told The Post: “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.”

“The ‘use it or lose it’ policy encourages unnecessary spending because agencies are penalized, instead 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.”

The Pentagon had the highest spending levels, with $1.2 billion in new furniture purchases, the group noted.


Other agencies’ spending levels included $428 million by the Department of Veteran Affairs, $408 million by the Justice Department, $308 million by the General Service Administration, $302 million by the State Department and $155 million by the Department of Homeland Security.

OpenTheBooks noted that the Defense Department’s furniture spending also remained higher than other agencies when accounting for pre-pandemic spending, with the Pentagon notching $2.1 billion in purchases between 2018 and 2022.

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs told The Post: “Some of VA’s office-based employees teleworked during the pandemic, both for their safety and the safety of those we serve, but they represent a fraction of our total workforce.”

“VA’s 465,000 public servants are currently delivering more care and more benefits to more Veterans than ever before in our nation’s history, and we regularly purchase furniture and office supplies to support them,” the spokesman went on.

“The vast majority of VA employees worked in-person at VA health care facilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mobilizing to help millions of veterans and their families through that difficult time,” he added. “All of our VA medical centers remained open during the pandemic, with thousands of VA employees working in those centers every day to serve our nation’s Veterans.”

“Now that the public health emergency has ended, VA is helping lead the federal government in bringing headquarters employees back to the office,” the spokesman also said.

“Due to a lease expiration, PBGC moved to a new headquarters in 2022 with a smaller footprint to reduce costs,” a spokesperson for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation told The Post. “The costs of PBGC’s headquarters move were authorized in 2017 by Congress.”

No other agencies responded to a request for comment.

President Biden stressed in his 2022 State of the Union address that it was “time for America to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again with people,” but reports show his administration has struggled to cut down on teleworking.

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients in an August email called on all Cabinet members to “aggressively” cut down on teleworking at their agencies this fall, Axios reported.

“We are returning to in-person work because it is critical to the well-being of our teams and will enable us to deliver better results for the American people,” Zients wrote in an email to agency heads.

“As we look towards the fall, and with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, your agencies will be implementing increases in the amount of in-person work for your team.

“This is a priority of the President — and I am looking to each of you to aggressively execute this shift in September and October.”

Reckless government furniture spending was also the subject of a heated exchange during last week’s Republican presidential primary debate, with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) accusing Nikki Haley of spending $52,701 on curtains for her New York residence when serving as United Nations ambassador in 2017 and 2018.

“You got bad information,” Haley shot back at Scott. “On the curtains — do your homework, Tim, because Obama bought those. … They were there before I even showed up at the residence.”

An internal report last year showed around 25% of employees at the Department of Health and Human Services were not working remotely at all during the first nine months of the pandemic, failing to log onto their agency’s software applications to read email, conduct video calls or consult work files, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

In February, the House passed a bill requiring all agencies to return to their pre-pandemic telework policies, with three Democrats joining all but one Republican in support.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who held a hearing earlier this year about unused federal workspace, told The Post: “The failure of agencies to properly use the real estate provided to them by taxpayers has plagued the federal government for decades.”

“The unacceptable telework policies put into place in the wake of the pandemic and the resistance to return to the office has turned this into a crisis,” Perry said. “The furniture purchases are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wasteful spending on unused space.

“We owe it to the Taxpayers to sell off this excess space for fair market value as fast as possible.”

The measure has yet to be taken up by the Senate.


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