- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The U.S. Government Accountability Office sent a message to federal employees who brown-bag their lunches: Bring your own forks to eat with — it’s not the taxpayer’s job to provide them.

The GAO released a report that categorized disposable silverware, cups and plates as “personal items” that should no longer be bought by federal agencies for their employees unless they have “specific statutory authority to do so,” Newsmax reported.

“The disposable cups, plates and cutlery are primarily for the convenience of agency employees and thus constitute a personal expense,” the GAO report stated.

The issue cropped up in 2009, when National Weather Service employees signed a Memorandum of Understanding with federal authorities that guaranteed the agency would provide the likes of hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and disposable cups, plates and utensils for employees, Newsmax reported.

The Department of Commerce shortly after asked the GAO to reconsider the disposable utensils agreement, however, and National Weather Service employees raised objections.

An arbitrator then stepped in to decide: Do taxpayers have to provide disposable cups, plates and utensils for federal workers or not? The arbitrator found that providing the disposables “could help Commerce maintain a healthy work environment and that employee sickness could be an inconvenience to the agency,” the GAO report summarized.

But the GAO ruled that disposable cups, plates and cutlery “clearly constitute a personal expense. Commerce has not demonstrated that using appropriated funds to provide these items would directly advance its statutory mission and that the benefit accruing to the government through the provision of these items outweighs the personal nature of the expense. Accordingly, appropriated funds are not available to pay for cups, plates and cutlery for Commerce employees.”

The National Weather Service opposed the GAO’s finding.

“In most places, you can’t run out to Burger King and grab a burger to bring back to work,” meteorologist Dan Sobien, president of the NWS employees organization, told The Washington Post. Many eat at their work station while monitoring weather. It’s really a bizarre thing. There’s no way this could cost them more than five or ten thousand dollars.”

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