House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent a letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson seeking information about reports of “excessive spending” on redecorating his office.
The situation stems from a whistleblower complaint made by a HUD official who alleges she was replaced for not finding a way to work around a $5,000 spending cap on improvements that could be made to Carson’s office.
The Guardian reported that Helen Foster said that she was told by then acting HUD Secretary Craig Clemmensen to work around the spending limit because “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.” Foster also claimed that she faced retaliation for exposing a $10m budget shortfall.
Another report from this week said that HUD spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Carson’s office. A spokesman for HUD said that Carson didn’t know the purchase had been made but that he was not planning on returning it as he didn’t think the cost was too steep. The spokesman also said, “In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money.”
The report also said that HUD did not get approval for the purchase even though federal law requires congressional approval for purchases exceeding $5,000.
Despite the initial reports that Carson did not intend to return the furniture, it is now being reported that HUD is working to cancel the order for the dining room set at Carson’s request.
“I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered,” Carson said in a statement. “I have requested that the order be canceled. We will find another solution for the furniture replacement.”
Gowdy referred to the situation with Foster in his letter, stating, “The Committee is aware of a complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) by Department of Housing and Urban Development employee Helen Foster alleging retaliation when Foster refused to abet exceeding a spending cap on redecorating your office.”
He then went on to ask for communications relating to Foster and for documentation on redecorating costs for the HUD Secretary’s office going back the past 20 years.
A copy of the letter is included below.