Department of Housing and Urban Development officials spent north of $31,000 on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office in late 2017, and the woman who reported the expense says she was demoted for blowing the whistle.
Around the time White House officials were announcing plans to slash HUD’s programs for the homeless, elderly and poor, the acting head of HUD asked an agency official to “find money” to pay for an office makeover for incoming Secretary Ben Carson’s office.
Helen Foster, HUD’s former chief administrative officer, said she mentioned the $5,000 cap in place on such expenses, according to her complaint alleging retaliation filed with a federal whistleblower agency.
Foster wrote in the complaint that she was told the administration “has always found money for this in the past” and that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
HUD would later spend $31,561 on a custom hardwood table and hutch, according to an agency document.
In response to a request for comment Tuesday, HUD said only blinds were purchased for Carson’s office and were within the $5,000 limit. The agency said the dining set was considered “a building expense” rather than a decoration and was not ordered by Carson. The set is in a room adjoining the secretary’s office.
Foster alleges she was demoted after she refused to go along with the pricey remodeling, which Foster says had been requested by Carson’s wife.
HUD spokesman Raffi Williams said Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it. “In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” he added.
Her complaint, filed in November, also describes an environment in which high-level officials at the agency told Foster to skirt the rules or break them entirely.
Foster wrote that she discovered a $10.8 million budget shortfall last year from “accounting irregularities” in 2016 and raised concerns with senior agency officials. She said she was “informed that agency leadership was unwilling to report the $10.8 million funding deficit” to the appropriation’s staff tasked with handling congressional approval for the department’s funding.
The allegations of financial mismanagement in Foster’s complaint come on the heels of a Trump administration budget proposal that would slash funding for affordable housing and impose work restrictions for those who receive rental assistance. During a tour of public housing facilities last year in Columbus, Ohio, Carson told The New York Times that subsidized units shouldn’t be too comfortable.
READ MORE STORIES ON BLACKAMERICAWEB.COM:
GET THE HOTTEST STORIES STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX: