Late last year, Donald Trump’s White House sketched out a plan to not only slash funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but also gut HUD programs intended to benefit the poor, the elderly, and the homeless.
And while this plan was taking shape, Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was getting a new dining room set for his office – worth $31,000, and paid for by taxpayers. The New York Times reported:
Department officials did not request approval from the House or Senate Appropriations Committees for the expenditure of $31,561, even though federal law requires congressional approval “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if the cost exceeds $5,000.
[A HUD spokesperson] said department officials did not request congressional approval because the dining set served a “building-wide need.” The table is inside the secretary’s 10th-floor office suite.
The same spokesperson for the cabinet agency said Carson did not personally make the purchase, but also does not intend to return the expensive furniture.
The Washington Post had a related report, highlighting Helen Foster, HUD’s former chief administration officer, who complained internally about the amount of time she had to spend on plans to redecorate Ben Carson’s office. She said in an email to a colleague that she had to answer “endless questions about why I won’t fund more than the $5000 limit” for redecorating the office. “I do like 3 meetings a day on that,” she wrote on Feb. 22, 2017. “I hate this.”
Five months later, Foster was transferred, as part of a demotion she alleged was retaliatory.
Of course, this comes on the heels of an entirely different Carson controversy, which arose just three weeks ago. According to those allegations, Carson ignored warnings from HUD attorneys and permitted his son to organize an official agency event in Baltimore – where Carson’s son is a local businessman. Ben Carson Jr. and his wife ended up “inviting people with whom they potentially had business dealings,” and then invited those people to contact his father’s deputies after the event.
The cabinet secretary soon after voluntarily requested an investigation into his alleged ethical lapses.
Whether Carson will be able to remain at his post is unclear, but let’s not forget that he’s hardly the only member of Donald Trump’s cabinet to be embroiled in controversy. Indeed, the Washington Post reported two weeks ago that “more than 40 percent of Trump’s first Cabinet-level picks have faced ethical or other controversies.”