State Department defends $5 million purchase of high-end glassware

Posted at 12:01 PM, Oct 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-10 12:01:29-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — You might call it “stemwaregate”, a seemingly extravagant luxury purchase by the U.S. Department of State just before the federal government partially shuts down.

A contract worth as much as $5 million was awarded to high-end Vermont glass and pottery designer Simon Pearce to design and manufacture glass stemware for U.S. foreign embassies just days before the October 1st government shutdown.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf sought Wednesday to downplay the story.

“[T]here was no sort of $5 million midnight purchase trying to get it just in under the wire,” she said. “This contract was not connected in any way to the shutdown.”

But Harf did acknowledge the contract, which was awarded September 25, coincided with the end of the government’s fiscal year, at which time many agencies incorporate a “use it or lose it” mentality with their funding.

A spokesperson for Simon Pearce told CNN the contract is for 12,500 pieces of custom hand-blown glassware to be produced over five years and to be used at foreign embassies.

Simon Pearce stemware isn’t cheap — starting at $65 per piece. But the spokeswoman said the government has negotiated a “significant reduction” in price due to the volume order.

The company spokesperson said Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was instrumental in securing the contract. Simon Pearce expects the contract to allow it to hire many additional workers at its Quechee facility, which was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Irene two years ago.

Harf said the purchase reinforces U.S. worldwide diplomacy: “We’re out there representing the United States, and I think what better way to do that than with a good American company with good American products.”

By Lesa Jansen