As the vast majority of federal employees worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government spent $3.3 billion on new office furniture, according to a watchdog report obtained by the New York Post.
The report shows that, between 2020 and 2022, federal agencies spent more than $1 billion per year on the upgraded furnishings, which is consistent with pre-pandemic spending levels, despite the absence of employees.
Citing a Government Accountability Office report, the taxpayer watchdog group OpenTheBooks.com revealed the furniture purchases in a report published Tuesday. The report found that 17 of the 24 federal agencies are currently using between 9% and 49% of their building capacities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped $237,960 on solar-powered picnic tables, while the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, spent $120,000 on leather recliners from Ethan Allen.
Reportedly downsizing and moving into a 300,000 square-foot office space in Philadelphia, the Environmental Protection Agency plunked down $6.5 million for new furniture.
The watchdog group said the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation shelled out nearly $15 million — or $14,400 for each of its 1,000 employees — on new décor, in a particularly "egregious example."
"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 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," he said. "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 eleventh-hour legislation over the weekend to fund the government at current levels until Nov. 17, when Congress must come through with long-term spending legislation.
While the Pentagon topped the list of biggest furniture spenders, at $1.2 billion, 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.
A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs told the Post that some of the agency's employees worked remotely during the pandemic "for their safety and the safety of those we serve," but said that "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 said. "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. 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 added.
A spokesperson for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation said that a lease expiration prompted the company to move to a new headquarters last year "with a smaller footprint to reduce costs."
"The costs of PBGC's headquarters move were authorized in 2017 by Congress," the spokesperson told the Post.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, told the outlet that "excessive spending on luxurious furniture" when most of Washington's workforce was working remotely is "just symptomatic of a culture of wasteful spending."
"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 said. "This is just one of the many perverse incentives that drive irresponsible spending in our nation's capital — and it has to stop."
Nicole Wells, a Newsmax general assignment reporter covers news, politics, and culture. She is a National Newspaper Association award-winning journalist.
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