EPA’s fond­ness for fur­ni­ture costs taxpayers $92 mil­lion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY KELLAN HOW­ELL

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.

“While pri­vate com­pa­nies and cit­i­zens face more and

more hard­ship from gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion, the EPA lit­er­ally sits in the easy chair. ... It’s Her­man Miller fur­ni­ture for the bu­reau­crats, but Ikea for the taxpayers.” — Adam An­drze­jew­ski, OpenThe­Books.com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.