Given age-old Republican complaints about too much wasteful government spending, one might assume minimizing tax dollar expenditures on nonessentials in Washington, D.C., would be a primary GOP goal. But recently, that theory came under question again because when outfitting his agency's two offices, U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer spent nearly $1 million on furniture.
The story originally appeared in the New York Post, which reported that over $917,000 was shelled out during Lighthizer's spending spree. Where did all this money go? Well, a million bucks can go fast when a movable wall system costs $290,000. A large plaque engraved with "Executive Office of the President" cost nearly a thousand dollars. An antique desk set the U.S. Trade agency back another $3,500. And nearly half a million went to Executive Furniture of Washington, DC, which describes itself as offering "high end executive office furniture."
In a statement sent to Bustle, Fred Ames, the assistant U.S. trade representative for administration, said the "investments are the culmination of a long-range, planned project that began before 2014 to install wall systems in work spaces and replace two-decade-old office furniture in two buildings to achieve improved functionality and gain much-needed additional office space."
He added, "Ambassador Lighthizer did not direct these expenditures, which were planned and executed consistent with career staff’s spending authority. All furnishings were acquired through Executive Office of the President contracting procedures. In my opinion as a senior career official responsible for developing and implementing this project, these funds were critical for continuing to execute effectively USTR’s mission."
Earlier, however, Lighthizer's office released a statement that said the "furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama Administration to replace two-decade-old furniture."
For a numbers comparison, officials at the same agency under President Obama reportedly spent $388,000 — combined — on office refurbishment during their two terms at the post. Bustle has reached out to Lighthizer for additional comment.
And Obama officials pushed back on the idea that Trump's people could off-load responsibility for the expensive office renovations on the previous administration. One former Obama official told the NY Post, "We told 11 other countries that we were going to do a trade deal with them, and the Trump administration found the power to unwind that," referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump nixed that heavily negotiated trade deal in the first week of his presidency.
"Furniture purchases cannot be as binding as a trade agreement that the president of the United States signed," the official went on to say, calling the whole argument "laughable."
Trump's administration is already struggling to combat an image of wanton government spending by agencies and agency heads on nonessentials. Tom Price, the former head of the Health and Human Services department, was forced to resign after facing public heat for chartering private flights that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Trump's head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt is under multiple investigations for profligate spending on travel, 24-hour security, installing a big-ticket sound-proof booth in his office, and a peculiarly cheap condo rental in pricey D.C. (The property is owned by a married couple who are both lobbyists.)
Ben Carson, Trump's secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was also lambasted for ordering expensive office furnishings. Although the $31,000 price tag for a new dining set pales in comparison next to almost $1 million.
Another Trump official making waves over extravagant purchases won't help the administration change the narrative about its apparent non-concern for "wasteful" government spending.