The Department of Housing and Urban Development isn't apologizing for spending $31,000 late last year on a custom hardwood table, chairs, and hutch for Secretary Ben Carson's office.
Speaking to The New York Times, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams said that while Carson "didn't know the table had been purchased," at the same time he doesn't think it cost too much and has no plans to send it back. "In general," Williams added, "the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers' money." After The Guardian first reported about the expensive table on Tuesday, it came out that HUD spent an additional $165,000 on "lounge furniture" for the department's headquarters, even as the Trump administration proposed a 14 percent reduction in spending that would affect programs helping the poor and homeless.
Helen Foster, a HUD career staffer, filed a complaint with the federal Office of Special Counsel last year, claiming that the department retaliated against her when she resisted the wishes of Carson's wife, Candy, who wanted to redecorate her husband's office. Foster said that even before Carson was confirmed, acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen told her to find the money to pay for new decor, saying, "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair." Foster said she told officials that under federal law, there must be congressional approval to "furnish or redecorate the office of a department head" if it will cost more than $5,000, but she was overruled and, not long after, reassigned to a different position.
Williams said there was no need to ask permission from Congress, because the table, which will sit inside Carson's office on the 10th floor once it arrives, serves a "building-wide need." You can read more on Foster's claims, plus misleading comments Williams made regarding the facelift Carson gave his office, at The Guardian.