Scores of storage areas and warehouses in Washington are filled with government-owned furniture that should be used or given away, despite longstanding efforts of Congress and federal officials to cut this kind of waste, General Services Administrator Gerald P. Carmen said yesterday.
Carmen, who spent last Saturday touring GSA warehouses at the Washington Navy Yard, said the agency would begin a systematic review of all such furniture storage space, with the aim of putting much of the items back to use and reducing the $236 million a year the government now spends on furniture.
During his tour, Carmen said, he had to step "over the furniture, around it . . . [and] through it. If anybody thinks that there's no waste in government, they should take that trip."
Carmen found in the warehouses enough tables, chairs and desks to furnish a good-sized office building.
In all, the 141 furniture storerooms and warehouses in the Washington area cover 800,000 square feet--or more office space than the Commerce Department has in its massive headquarters at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
The space costs the government about $3.6 million a year to rent.
"This kind of situation should not exist, and while I'm in charge, the effort to stop it will be sooner and not later," Carmen said.
Other efforts over the years to dispose of stockpiled furniture have been only partly successful. GSA, however, has managed to reduce its own stockpile of furniture.
One perennial problem Carmen will likely face in his new attempt is that the furniture warehouses, while owned or leased by GSA, are subleased to other federal agencies, which are traditionally reluctant to relinquish storage space or materials.
"We're going to enforce existing federal regulations that call on agencies to declare excess unneeded federal furnishings," said William B. Foote, GSA's assistant commissioner of property management. "We'll go in there with pressure, arm-twisting. We'll explain to the agencies that it is in their best interest and in the taxpayers' best interest to get rid of those stockpiles of furniture."
Carmen said a major reason that the furniture issue has never been resolved is a "disrespect for property among some federal employes. There is also a cultural and a discipline gap between people who work for the government and the taxpayers. They have to understand the value of the taxpayers' contribution. To change the rules is not going to make any difference in what I found at the Navy Yard."
In March, Foote said, GSA will open a Federal Personal Property Center at Franconia that will centralize the storage of all excess furniture. He said he hopes this will allow the government to surrender much of the leased warehouse space it now has.
There already exists a process in which surplus furniture is supposed to be first offered to state or local governments and finally sold for scrap if no one wants it. But the process is a cumbersome and slow-moving one.
Besides the furniture at the Navy Yard, there are boxes of films, some strewn across the floor; more than 60 cases of Memorex tapes in a section assigned to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and boxes of materials from the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission that carry the signature of the agency's chairman in 1976--John W. Warner, now U.S. senator from Virginia.
In another area there are cases of bright orange-and-white bumper stickers promoting the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, a favorite of First Lady Nancy Reagan. And in a nearby building, amid cases of old Civil Defense biscuits, gauze bandages and eyedrops, there is a stack of booklets outlining California's Civil Defense Law Enforcement liaison program.
Those booklets, circa 1967, carry the name Ronald Reagan, who was then governor.