Tucked away unused in a conference room on the sixth floor of 2 Boylston Street in Boston sit more than 30 chairs, gathering dust since last June.
The Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy bought 78 of them in all, spending $213.40 each, a total of $16,645, to replace aging chairs that an agency spokesperson says was a "safety issue" for employees.
"Did they really say that?" laughed taxpayer advocate Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "The chairs are for the safety of employees?"
"I don't believe that every chair they had in that department was unsafe. There might've been one that was unsafe, and they could've replaced it, but then they think, 'Well, as long as we're getting one, let's just replace all of them,'" Anderson said.
The agency tells FOX Undercover the chairs were picked partly because they match other conference room chairs bought in 2008.
They aren't the most expensive in the catalog, but they also aren't the cheapest.
"You don't want them all sitting on a folding chair. Somewhere between that and 200-and-some dollars a chair has to be a state chair that's affordable and yet that their little tushies can sit on without suffering," Anderson said.
The state agency that bought the chairs, which is now known as the Center for Health Information and Analysis, or CHIA, initially turned down our request for an on-camera interview. But after we asked to talk to Gov. Deval Patrick about the chairs, CHIA Executive Director Aron Boros was suddenly available.
"Is this a waste of money?" asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
"Of course not," Boros replied.
"Why do you need all these new chairs?" Beaudet asked.
"We purchased new chairs because the chairs our employees were sitting on were falling apart," Boros replied.
The agency showed us a handful of the old chairs which are in rough shape. But we discovered most of the old chairs were snatched up for free by other agencies through the state's surplus property program.
The Department of Correction took 22 of them. State Police took 12.
"If the chairs are so dangerous, why did 34 of them go to two other state agencies?" Beaudet asked.
"When we have property that we need to get rid of, there's a process that we go through. And DOC and the State Police are free to reject any of the chairs through the process," Boros replied.
"Are you worried people over in those agencies are sitting in those dangerous chairs?" Beaudet asked.
"I just follow the process. I don't have any control over what chairs they take and how they use them.," Boros replied. "Maybe they're using them for different purposes than we did for different people in different places."
"Sculptures?" Beaudet asked.
"Maybe. I don't know. I have no control over what the other agencies do," Boros said.
"If they're really dangerous, why would other state agencies want them?" Beaudet asked.
"I don't know," Boros replied.
As for the new chairs, almost half still aren't being used eight months after they were bought.
State Rep. George Peterson, R-Grafton, doesn't get it.
"I've got teachers that don't have pencils and paper in their classroom so parents are bringing that stuff in," he said. "For the state to buy 78 chairs and half of them not even being used at this point in time I think is absurd."
So FOX Undercover asked CHIA's Boros why half the chairs aren't being used.
"We're in the process of growing," he replied. "So we expect that many of these chairs if not all of them will be used in the next few months with new employees."
New employees being hired are part of a reorganization that happened last summer, after the new chairs were purchased. Boros insists he planned on hiring more people anyway and points out his agency gets its funding from hospitals and health plans, but the money spent on chairs is part of $8 million the state spent on office furnishings in fiscal year 2012. That's up from the $7 million spent the year before.
It comes as Gov. Patrick is proposing $1.9 billion in tax increases
"You're asking people to pay higher taxes. Do you think the state has eliminated all wasteful spending?" Beaudet asked Gov. Patrick.
"I think this administration has an unparalleled record in squeezing out waste and squeezing out nonsense and capturing efficiencies. And do I think that is ever finished in any large organization? Public or private? No," Patrick replied.
"Are you troubled to see new chairs sitting unused for months in a conference room?" Beaudet asked.
"Well that's what you say. I don't have that information," Patrick replied.
"You can see the pictures tonight, governor," Beaudet said.
But Peterson, the state representative from Grafton, said buying the new chairs was indicative of a bigger problem.
"It all comes down to oversight. Somebody's not watching where the dollars are going," he said.
The Patrick administration tells us a lot of the dollars are going to buy furniture for new or renovated buildings, but clearly not all of the money.
As for the state's surplus property program, where the agency with the news chairs passed on its old chairs to other agencies, at last check there are hundreds of items available to state agencies for free, including more than 100 chairs.
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