Substack: Feds Spent $3.3 Billion On Furniture During Pandemic Years 118_Fed_Furniture_Spending

October 3, 2023 11:30 AM



Top 10 federal agencies spending on furniture during the pandemic years.

By Adam Andrzejewski, OpenTheBooks CEO/Founder | Published at OpenTheBooks Substack

KEY TAKEAWAYAs Congress fights overspending, we want to show that members are appropriating, wasting and sometimes hiding massive amounts of money from the taxpayers.


For instance, in 2021, at the peak of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent $237,960 on solar powered picnic tables. We wonder if they included a social distancing app.  The State Department dialed up nearly $120,000 brand-new Ethan Allen leather recliners for its embassy in Islamabad. 


The feds spent $26 million on furniture for their conference rooms, while their meetings were held on ZOOM. Spending included $700,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission for their New York regional office conference room. 


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) spent nearly $250,000 on a conference room “refresh” with expensive, high-end Herman Miller furniture. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) purchased $284,000 in Herman Miller furniture for their headquarters conference center. 


The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation spent $14.4 million on new furniture for its 1,000 employees – that’s $14,400 per employee.


Environmental Protection Agency downsized its 300,000 square foot office space in Philadelphia — but upsized the furniture. It used relocation as a license to redecorate $6.5 million on high end furniture when moving into smaller space at Four Penn Central.


WHAT WE FOUND: Despite federal employees working from home, the agencies continued to splurge on furniture purchases.

There was no material difference in the amount federal agencies collectively spent on office furniture between the years 2018 and 2022.



Kept spending on furniture during pandemic despite work from home mandates.

Here is how individual agencies break out:

  • Transportation used just 9% of its office space – but spent $55 million on furniture.

  • Agriculture used just 9% of its office space as well. It spent $57 million on furniture. 

  • General Services Administration also hit 9% usage. And it found… $308 million for furniture.

  • Veterans Affairs used just 16% of its office space but spent $428 million on furniture.

  • Defense used 23% of its space and spent $1.2 billion on furniture. Had it occupied 100%, would it have spent $4.8 billion? 

  • Justice used 35% of its offices yet spent $408 million on furniture. State spent $302 million. Homeland Security spent $156 million. 



BACKGROUND: In July, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showed building utilization rates in federal agency headquarters were between nine and 35-percent.


Low utilization rates were attributable to the following factors: increased number of staff working remotely, outdated building configurations, historic utilization problems, and a reluctance for agency leaders to share space with other agencies.  


Most of the major federal agency headquarters are one quarter full or less, and none are at 50 percent capacity or more, according to the report.  


Remote work has surged at federal agencies since the pandemic began. A Federal News Network survey conducted in November 2022 found 60 percent of federal employee respondents were working completely remotely, 33 percent had a hybrid situation, and the rest worked in office.  


The Biden administration has urged agencies to reduce telework ‘aggressively’ in a recent email from White House chief of staff Jeff Zients to Cabinet officials.


Congressional Republicans have renewed requests for information from agency officials about telework policies.


In May 2022, House Republicans introduced the Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems (SHOW UP) Act, which would have required agencies to return to pre-pandemic telework levels.



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