The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent more than $31,000 on a new dining set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office last year, according to procurement documents obtained by The New York Times.
The new furniture, which has yet to be delivered, includes a custom table, chairs and hutch. It was purchased by a staffer in Carson’s office shortly after another HUD employee expressed concerns over a costly redecoration request that would’ve exceeded federal limits. Tuesday’s report also comes as HUD is facing a $6.8 billion cut to its fiscal budget that would affect elderly and poor Americans.
A HUD spokesperson said Carson didn’t know about the requisition of the furniture at the time but said the secretary didn’t believe it was too expensive and would not be returning it.
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” the spokesman, Raffi Williams, told The New York Times. He noted that the agency didn’t seek approval from congressional appropriations committees for the purchase, which is legally required for redecoration costs exceeding $5,000, because it served a “building-wide need.”
The Times clarified that the table will be placed in Carson’s office.
The Guardian reported later that day that Williams initially denied that a dining table had been purchased, telling the outlet last Friday that “the only money HUD spent was $3,200 to put up new blinds.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Guardian reported that another HUD official, Helen Foster, alleged she was demoted after she expressed concerns over expensive plans to redecorate Carson’s office. The news outlet obtained a copy of a complaint filed by Foster in which she states she was asked by then-acting HUD Secretary Craig Clemmensen to help find money to revamp the office before Carson was confirmed to take over the agency. When she informed Clemmensen that there was a statutory limit on such expenditures, she said, he told her officials had “always found ways around that in the past” and that ″$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
She lodged an official complaint at the time to HUD’s budget director about being asked to violate the spending limits, but, she said, she was removed from the post and made the head of the unit overseeing Freedom of Information Act requests.
In April 2017, Carson said in an interview that he was “putting in place a structure so that we can monitor where every penny goes.”
“You know, when I started doing that, these people looked at me like I had six heads,” Carson told radio host Hugh Hewitt.