$92 million



Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Good run down of why this is sleazy and almost certainly crap. Heck it really doesn’t take much to know that office furniture is always expensive. When i worked at a mental health center we paid many thousands for super fire resistant file cabinets and mediocre office furniture.Report

  2. Avatar Morat20 says:

    I tried to get a home version of the semi-crappy chair I use at work? 300 bucks, used. I want an Aeron chair. They are the longest lasting and most comfortable chairs you can get. They breathe well, they’re highly customizeable, they offer tremendous support and if your job involves sitting on your butt, it’s well worth the money.

    92 million over ten years for 17,000 employees? All that takes is a once a decade replacement of worn out stuff plus regular maintenance.

    5400 a head will get you….a standard cubicle, decent chair, and maintenance for a decade.

    It’s like these idiots have never had to price office furnishings before. Maybe they should do a quick sanity check with an HR department who could probably rattle off their per-person costs for furnishing, building maintenance, etc in a heartbeat.

    If they’re counting carpet cleaning as ‘furnishing’ then there’s no telling what shenanigans they’re pulling with the numbers. Is wiring the floor or ceiling for internet ‘furnishing’? Heating and cooling? Desktop PCs?Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Morat20 says:


      They breathe well, they’re highly customizeable, they offer tremendous support and if your job involves sitting on your butt, it’s well worth the money.

      Yeah, the whole Ikea comparison is ridiculous. I’m sitting on a Herman Miller chair and I’m in a cubicle. Companies that can spend on quality furniture, fixtures and equipment will do just that, as should government agencies.

      5400 a head will get you

      Another way to look at that is that it’s $500 per year per employee. That’s paltry. It’s probably replacement of equipment, build out costs (i.e. moving into space and needing new cubes, furniture, etc.), etc. for an organization with 17,000 employees.

      I’m always wary of partisans when they start throwing around the numbers.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Dave says:

        Bluntly, it’s a “scary number” because it’s big and the average reader has no comparison for it. Is it high? Low? Cheap? Expensive?

        That’s not stated. But the big total aggregate total (over a decade no less) is tossed around to make it seem as excessive as possible.

        Because who here happens to know what it costs to outfit an office? Few people will even bother to break it down and think for a second about what stuff costs.

        5k a person? Over 10 years? That sounds about right for outfitting a cube farm if you plan to be in business in ten years. Actually a bit on the cheap side — I suspect the chairs are their only real ‘big ticket’ item, and if my experience with NASA was any indication — those go in conference rooms, the offices of higher ups, and places where there’s a lot of ‘hot seating’ (multiple people will use that chair a day or week, it’s not just there for the guy who sits in that cubical) or that appear on camera.

        They’ll gradually filter down to the cubical monkeys. Maybe. If that building happens to be refurbished. And the chairs are worn out. Then they’ll replace with the good ones, but mostly because they last longer.

        The chairs I always sat in were the 300 to 350 mass office chairs. Just adjustable enough to meet ergonomic standards and hard wearing enough to last. The chairs in the nice conference rooms (ie: not our normal one), or the ones in the brand new buildings or those totally refurbished were nicer.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Morat20 says:

      Also, conference rooms? For our 150-person office, we had easily a conference room seat for every five people, plus conference/video/video-conference infrastructure.

      Depending on just how much of things like maintenance, public spaces, etc. were counted, how many entirely new offices were built, how many were renovated, and the like – $92 million might be evidence of how well they spent their money…Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to El Muneco says:

        Oh yeah, furnishings most likely include the video-conferencing equipment. Heck, depending on how they counted it it might include the whole phone setup. The EPA is probably stuck running a full system (you can get cheap 50 or 100 seat digital solutions that are really basically VOIP systems running off a server, but that won’t scale to 17,000 employees — and I wonder about security).

        If they’re running cube farms like everyone else, you have to have conference rooms (the only way three or more people can discuss a problem without annoying their neighbors), which require support systems for telephone or video-conferencing….

        Of course we could see all this information if we could see the open report. Weird that we can’t, right?Report

  3. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Mr. Andrzejewski may be doing journeyman’s work, here.

    Good post. At the risk of picking editorial nits, I think the idiom you are aiming for here is that he may be doing yeoman’s work here.Report

  4. Avatar Philip H says:

    So being a Fed – albeit NOT in the EPA – I can attest to three things when it comes to “furnishings.”

    First, the cubicles that we mostly work in both in DC and elsewhere count in that category. The one I sit in at work is over 10 years old (at least that’s what the not very well hidden manufacturing sticker says). To replace one floor of these cubicles in a modern office building would cost upwards of a million dollars. Multiply that by the number of EPA offices nationally, and you get way past $92M.

    Second, Aeron Chairs are not ubiquitous – they are slowly coming into use in most agencies for the reasons cited, but in ones and twos per year, not thousands.

    Third, most of our “furnishings” have to be bought through the General Services Administration (GSA) contracted vendors. So on an individual level we have little control over what is bought. Federal contracting rules require GSA to pursue multi-vendor best value contracts, and that is all open to the public in various ways and stages.

    Interestingly, Wikipedia quotes a Cato Institute study that shows the federal government also spent $92 Million in 2006 alone on “corporate welfare” mostly through tax breaks and other other forms of foregone federal revenue. You be the judge which is a bigger scandal.Report

    • the federal government also spent $92 Million in 2006 alone on “corporate welfare”

      In Fargo, North Dakota. On October 2nd.

      Really, if the full extent of corporate welfare were $92M annually, I’d think the libertarians had taken over.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    About those Aeron chairs: sitting for long stretches of time is not very good for your back, especially the lumbar region. Sitting for long stretches of time is not very good for your back, especially the lumbar region. An ergonomic chair, if properly used, will significantly reduce the strain that sitting for long stretches at a time puts on that region of the spine. This, in turn, will reduce the number of claims that are made on the federal workers compensation system, thus saving taxpayers money. Alsotoo, we can reasonably expect that for at least a significant percentage of workers, a employee who is comfortable will be more capable of doing better work, for longer periods of time, than an employee who is uncomfortable sitting all day long in a cheap, wearying chair. Office furniture is not the place to get cheap. Maybe it’s not the place to get extravagant, but there is a happy medium, and quality matters.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

      That is completely correct. However there is solid subset of conservative voters, and few dem’s, who think all government employees should get only the absolute minimum. Gov buildings should be quonset huts and the staff should be given as little as possible. The line about gov shopping as fancy stores while citizens shop at Ikea is the key. People who work for gov are being treated well or at least decently while citizens have crap.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to greginak says:

        If I have to spend an occasional afternoon in the hell of IKEA, I see no reason my civil servants should get a pass on that mess.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Glyph says:

          Well we don’t have an Ikea since we are more rugged and hardy then you folk. As i remember Ikea, while having cheap furntiture you screw up putting together yourself, was a fashionable hip thing. Not a salt of the earth real american kind of thing. You know a hipster outlet for people who like european ( hiss) kind of stuff.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Glyph says:

          You can get semi-decent computer chairs from IKEA. IIRC, however, it’s at least 250 dollars for one that you can sit in for hours without killing your back.

          Honestly, if your butt’s gonna be in it more than an hour a day any chair is gonna run you 250 bucks, minimum.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

      But how is sitting for long stretches of time on your back? Specifically, the lumbar region?Report

  6. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    This means we should stop regulating the environment, right?Report