The Cable

State Dept Defends Its $5 Million Order for Hand-Crafted Glassware

Congress is asking the State Department for specifics about a recent $5 million contract for handcrafted glasses for use in embassies around the world, The Cable has learned. The order, which came on the eve of last week’s government shutdown, is a potential five-year contract for 20 different styles of custom handcrafted stem and barware ...

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Congress is asking the State Department for specifics about a recent $5 million contract for handcrafted glasses for use in embassies around the world, The Cable has learned.

The order, which came on the eve of last week’s government shutdown, is a potential five-year contract for 20 different styles of custom handcrafted stem and barware from the Vermont-based glassblowing company Simon Pearce. The specifics of the congressional inquiry are unclear, but one Hill aide who contacted The Cable was less than enthused. "Seems like a poor use of funds given the current budget environment," he said. 

A State Department official, speaking on background, said the order was not unusual. "It’s probably not a surprise to you or anyone else that the State Department and our embassies have nice dinnerware," the official said. "It would probably be expected for anyone representing the U.S. government abroad."

The official also said the timing, just before the government shutdown, was not atypical. "It’s not unusual for lots of contracts to be awarded by the end of the fiscal year," the source said.

According to New Hampshire’s Valley News newspaper, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies, was "instrumental in helping Simon Pearce get the contract." Leahy specifically wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in support of Simon Pearce, according to a Leahy press release.

"It is wonderful to have such an exquisite example of Vermont craftsmanship on display and in use in our embassies around the world," Leahy said. "Marcelle and I have visited many of those embassies, and knowing that Simon Pearce’s products will be there is something that all Vermonters should be proud of."

For government agencies, the end of the fiscal year is typically marked by an uptick in contracts as they face the reality of spending leftover budgeted funds or giving the money back. It’s not clear what $5 million in stems and barware gets you, but we’re sure they’ll find their place in the almost 300 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world.

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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