Just as the White House geared up to slash programs for the poor, homeless, and elderly, officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $31,161 on a dining room set for the agency’s Secretary, Ben Carson, according to a new report from The New York Times.
The purchase of the custom hardwood table, chairs and hutch came a month after a top agency staff member filed a whistle-blower complaint charging Mr. Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, with pressuring department officials to find money for the expensive redecoration of his offices, even if it meant circumventing the law.
A HUD spokesman said in a statement that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased” but added that he didn’t think the cost was “too steep” and has no intentions of returning it.
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” the spokesman added.
According to the Times’ report, officials didn’t seek approval for the purchase. Federal law requires approval from the House or Senate Appropriations Committees “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if the expenditures are in excess of $5,000. HUD spokesman Raffi Williams said congressional approval wasn’t sought out because the dining set served a “building-wide need.”
Neither Mr. Carson nor his wife — who expressed a strong interest in sprucing up the drab, wood-paneled, 1960s-era secretary’s suite, according to several current and former department staff members — requested that the 50-year-old table be replaced, Mr. Williams said.
But he had remarked how the previous table was covered in scratches, scuff marks and cracks. Mr. Williams emailed several pictures of the old table, which looks polished and not visibly scarred, during events held by Mr. Carson’s predecessor, Julián Castro.
The Times reports that about a month before it was ordered, former top HUD official Helen G. Foster filed a complaint with a federal whistle-blower agency, saying she had been demoted and transferred after pushing back against Carson’s attempts to get around the $5,000 redecoration law.
Read The New York Times full report here.
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