The Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by Secretary Ben Carson, is spending a small fortune on new furniture while it proposes to cut billions from its own budget.
According to an agency spokesperson, it’s all aboveboard.
“The Secretary did not order a new table,” the spokesperson told TPM in an email, referring to a $31,561 dining set the agency ordered in December for Carson’s office. “The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building. The old table and chairs were from 1967 and deemed unrepairable.”
TPM published photos Wednesday of the existing furniture (seen above) that the new dining set will replace. The photos were provided as part of the same email from the HUD spokesperson.
According to the New York Times, which first reported the expense, agency spokesperson Raffi Williams claimed that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but also that Carson did not think the cost was too steep. Williams said Carson would not return the new furniture.
Williams did not respond to TPM’s questions about why the dining room set was considered a “building expense,” rather than part of the secretary’s “decorating budget.” The latter category requires congressional approval if costs exceed $5,000, according to a HUD whistleblower who claims she was retaliated against for pointing that out to department leadership.
The HUD spokesperson told TPM, regarding the whistleblower: “Note, Helen Foster was not fired, she was rotated and is still a HUD employee. It’s not unusual for Senior Executive Service (SES) employees to be rotated. In fact, OPM encourages it.”
TPM’s calls and messages to Sebree and Associates, which will supply the dining set, according to multiple reports, went unanswered Wednesday. From records provided to TPM by the HUD spokesperson, the department originally requested $1,100 to fix the dining set, only to pay for a brand new one a few months later.
The Guardian reported that Williams initially told the publication last week, asked whether the department had purchased a new “dining-room-style” table: “Yeah, that’s inaccurate.”
Here’s HUD spokesman @Raffiwilliams falsely telling me on Friday that a new dining table had not been bought for Ben Carson’s office. He just admitted to NYT that it was: https://t.co/zO8XSZtdG7 pic.twitter.com/nIaMAiOuZu
— Jon Swaine (@jonswaine) February 27, 2018
When asked about his original claim, the Guardian reported, Williams “falsely stated that he had been asked only about spending on improvements to Carson’s office from what he called ‘the decorating budget.’”
The spokesperson did not detail to TPM where or how an additional $165,000 for “lounge” furniture, as reported by the Guardian, would be spent. “The $165K were purchases are done by the career employees in charge of building purchases,” the spokesperson said. “They are regular orders for new furniture for various offices around the agency.”
The Guardian reported later Wednesday that, according to an inventory provided by HUD, the $165,000 payment to OFS Brands of Huntingburg, Indiana would go toward “38 lounge sofas and 76 lounge chairs” from the “Realm” range.
Splinter noted Wednesday that Carson recently told a forum of public housing residents in New York City: “Your toilet’s running, I’m not calling the [public housing authority], I’m lifting the lid. I’m gonna see if I can fix it because I’m saving the money.”
This post has been updated.