The federal agency that has the job of protecting the environment doesn’t seem to have too much concern for trees, at least the ones cut down to make furniture.
The Environmental Protection Agency over the past decade has spent a whopping $92.4 million to purchase, rent, install and store office furniture ranging from fancy hickory chairs and a hexagonal wooden table, worth thousands of dollars each, to a simple drawer to store pencils that cost $813.57.
The furniture shopping sprees equaled about $6,000 for every one of the agency’s 15,492 employees, according to federal spending data made public by the government watchdog OpenTheBooks.com.
And the EPA doesn’t buy just any old office furniture. Most of the agency’s contracts are with Michigan-based retailer Herman Miller Inc. According to the contracts, the EPA spent $48.4 million on furnishings from the retailer known for its high-end, modern furniture designs.
Just one of Herman Miller’s “Aeron” office chairs retails for nearly $730 on the store’s website. The EPA has spent tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and install those types of chairs in its offices.
The agency also paid another high-end retailer, Knoll Inc., nearly $5 million for furnishings. Knoll is known for its specialized modern furnishings, and 40 of its designs are on permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“While private companies and citizens face more and more hardship from government regulation, the EPA literally sits in the easy chair,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com. “The EPA can’t relate to the financial hardships regular Americans face. It’s Herman Miller furniture for the bureaucrats, but Ikea for the taxpayers.”
For spending tens of millions of dollars to furnish federal buildings like Wall Street hedge fund offices at taxpayers’ expense, the EPA wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting the most egregious examples of wasteful federal spending.
“Apparently the long arm of the regulatory state needs a lot of comfortable chairs and desks to rest its collective elbow on, and EPA’s ‘elbow-print’ is a big one,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union.
The EPA defended its spending, saying the agency needed the furniture after it moved buildings.
“EPA takes its fiscal responsibility seriously. As a result of GSA leases expiring, numerous EPA offices were required to move or consolidate space between 2000 and 2014. New furniture purchases provided the agency the opportunity to obtain space efficiencies,” the agency said.
The EPA’s problem is not new. In 2003, an internal report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility warned the agency to cut back on spending for fancy furniture.
“The amount of money that [EPA’s office of criminal enforcement, forensics and training] wastes is mind-boggling,” one employee was quoted as saying in the report, adding that the ability of agents to investigate violations is negatively affected by a number of wasteful practices, including “moving and remodeling offices/buying fancy new furniture for the benefit of a favored few.”
Among the thousands of contracts for “household” and office furniture were a hexagonal table ($5,539), hickory chairs ($6,391), a “Galerie lounge chair” with “Galerie settee” ($2,641 for the set), and a pencil drawer ($813.57).
One of the contracts called for a “Herman Miller chair with adjustable arms, swivel, lumbar, caster and tilt,” costing $4,047.
But the contracts didn’t cover only new furniture. The EPA spent big money to move and store its fancy chairs and desks as well.
In one example, the agency paid $73,265 to move the furniture out of an Ann Arbor, Michigan, office just to replace the carpeting.
“It’s difficult to conceive how merely moving furniture out of an office to recarpet it could cost over $73,000. That looks like enough to furnish an entire office, not just shuffle around the furnishings already there,” Mr. Sepp said.
He added that private businesses often splurge on nice office furniture, but unlike federal agencies, those businesses are held accountable for their spending.
“Sure, big businesses can spend equally big money on office furniture, but if the costs get excessive, shareholders can demand accountability and vote directly with their dollars. Taxpayers don’t really have the same kind of choice,” Mr. Sepp said.
The revelations of the EPA’s furniture purchases are the latest in a string of reports on the agency’s recklessness.
Last year, internal emails surfaced from a regional EPA office asking employees to please stop defecating in the hallways.
Those emails followed reports that workers in an Alaska EPA office were caught watching porn at work and another employee at the Washington headquarters posed as a CIA agent.
Those reports prompted the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to scold EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and threatened to hold her in contempt for blocking their investigations into questionable activity.
In 2013, it was revealed that EPA contractors were using a massive warehouse for “secret man caves.”
That same year, a high-level EPA official admitted he stole nearly $900,000 from the government by pretending to work for the CIA in order to skip work for long stretches of time.
“It is not a shock that the same agency which failed to realize that their top paid employee was a no-show for years, even giving him performance bonuses while he didn’t work, is indulging in high-end office furniture. Apparently at the EPA, you need a $750 chair to hide the fact that no one is sitting in it,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.
Meanwhile, the Wal-Mart website was selling a container to store pencils for just $10.