Federal workers need to provide their own dishes and cutlery at work, according to the Government Accountability Office. National Weather Service employees have been feuding with the Commerce Department, arguing federal agencies should foot the bill for dishware, since 2013 when Commerce said it could no longer provide "disposable plates, cups, and cutlery" initially supplied during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. An arbitrator sided with the employees, noting the items led to better work performance, but Commerce appealed. The Federal Labor Relations Authority has yet to rule on the case, but a separate decision from the GAO finds disposable utensils and tableware "clearly constitute a personal expense," the Washington Post reports.
More specifically, the items "are primarily for the convenience of agency employees" and can't be paid for with taxpayer dollars, the decision reads, per the Federal Times. "Commerce has not demonstrated that using appropriated funds to provide these items would directly advance its statutory mission." The president of the NWS employee organization says most national weather offices are remote with few employees. "Many eat at their work station," he says. The workers have previously criticized Commerce for spending money on the dispute when "there's no way this could cost them more than $5,000 or $10,000," he adds. The GAO can't enforce its decision, however, and NWS workers expect the still-pending FLRA ruling to be binding. (Read more GAO stories.)