Washington, DC–An employee watchdog group today called for an audit of funds used for a complete office redecoration now taking place in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Winnemucca field office. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is asking the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General to determine the source of funds for the purchase of matching furniture for the entire 120-person staff and whether employees improperly billed program accounts, such as fire control and range management, for the time they actually spent boxing files, moving furniture and otherwise facilitating the office makeover.
A large part of the Winnemucca office redecoration involves installation of new matching “system furniture”. Employees have been told to pack up their files, move out old furniture, and find a way to keep busy out of the office while the three-week refurnishing is completed. In the interim, all 120 employees in the Winnemucca field office have access to only two phone lines and a total of six computers terminals clustered in a conference room. BLM employees have contacted PEER raising the following concerns:
Cost. Field Manager Terry Reed has, despite recent budget cuts, decided to install matching “systems furniture” suites for all employees. While employees do not know the exact amount that will be expended, the word-of-mouth estimates put the total cost between $350,000 and $500,000;
Source of Funds. Since there has been no specific allocation made for these purposes, employees believe that the funds are being diverted from range conservation and fire management, the two largest office program budgets. In addition, staff members have been instructed to charge their time packing and doing other redecoration to range, fire and other program accounts; and
Disruption. As there is no office space for employees during the redecoration, workers are being urged to use vacation time. Those who choose to work are asked to spend as much time as possible in the field or to work out of their cars.
“According to employees, this redecoration has diverted funds, disrupted operations and prevented people from doing their jobs in what is supposed to be a public agency,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “While BLM employees deserve nice, functional furniture, employees say that what they had worked just fine; this makeover was apparently done for a manager’s ego, not the office’s efficiency.”
The BLM Winnemucca field office is responsible for federal lands encompassing 8.5 million acres in northwestern Nevada, an area larger than the state of Maryland. BLM holdings in this region include the Black Rock Desert Region and the Great Basin.