A Department of Housing and Urban Development employee accused HUD Secretary Ben Carson of running a “witch-hunt” and a “smear campaign” against a whistleblower who complained about HUD’s plan to spend $31,000 on a custom hardwood dining set that was to be installed in Carson’s office.
In an email sent to Carson earlier this week, Marcus Smallwood, who is HUD’s director of records and information management within the office of administration, said that HUD employees have been operating in “fear” since Helen Foster first spoke out about the controversial dining set.
Foster, who was HUD’s chief administrative officer, recently filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, accusing HUD management of taking “retaliatory personnel actions” against her for raising concerns about the dining set purchase.
In his letter (which was first reported on by Politico and subsequently obtained by HousingWire), Smallwood paints a picture of the turmoil that’s existed within HUD involving non-politically appointed employees, often called “careers.”
“Helen Foster is not the only person at HUD that has been persecuted in this witch-hunt under your watch,” Smallwood writes.
“She is the only person who has been brave enough to stand on principle and put her career, reputation, and livelihood on the line,” he continues. “The rest of us have operated in fear. I have had my subordinates and peers also suffer from retribution as leadership has run this campaign against Helen.”
Smallwood also notes the recent posts on Carson’s personal Facebook and Twitter pages, where Carson seemingly responds to the number of allegations that have surrounded HUD recently.
“Thank you to so many who have expressed concern for me and my family over the latest accusations. Rest assured that there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing by us. All the numbers and evidence are being gathered and a full disclosure is forthcoming,” @RealBenCarson posted last week. “We suspect, based on past attempts, that they will continue to probe and make further accusations even without evidence or substantiation. We will continue to ask for God’s guidance to do what is right.”
According to Smallwood, that post painted Foster in a negative light.
“Last week you tweeted from your personal account that Helen Foster’s claims were ‘unsubstantiated.’ You essentially called a whistle blower a liar not 24 hours after the story broke,” Smallwood said.
“A week has gone by and it is now very clear that Helen Foster was not lying about the furniture purchases,” Smallwood continued. “I have seen nothing from HUD to defend her as a whistle blower with regards to the furniture purchase.”
But in a statement provided to HousingWire, HUD spokesperson Raffi Williams said that Carson’s posts do not represent an official comment about Foster or her claims.
“HUD has not officially commented on any of Ms. Foster’s allegations,” Williams said. “Ms. Foster has a pending case against the Department. The agency has a policy of not commenting on pending cases.”
Williams also said that HUD is “fully cooperating” with the Office of Special Counsel in regards to Foster’s allegations.
Smallwood also claims that he and others at HUD have suffered harassment relating to Foster’s allegations. Asked about that allegation, Williams said: “The Secretary does not tolerate harassment.”
Smallwood also said that he “participated in the silencing of employees trying to protect them from the malicious activities of senior leadership at HUD” in the last several months.
Smallwood also claims that “undue influence” was placed on both he and Foster to process a Freedom of Information Act request that was “of a political nature” in a different manner than how FOIA requests are usually handled.
To that, Williams said: “FOIA requests are typically processed in the order they are received. HUD receives FOIAs of a political nature almost every day, and they are handled in our normal process.”
Smallwood also claims that Foster was demoted twice in retaliation for asking “tough questions,” and subsequently prevented from working in government.
“It was her job to be conscience of HUD and ask the tough questions and when she did that, she was not just demoted two levels (she was essentially moved from being over me to under me), she was blocked from other job opportunities at every turn because of the smear campaign that was conducted to prevent her from working in government,” Smallwood writes of Foster.
But Williams told HousingWire that Foster is still a HUD employee, but per her request, is currently on detail with the Department of Treasury and is expected to return once that detail is completed.
Smallwood closes by advocating on Foster’s behalf. “I’ve known Helen for approximately five years and she believes in the Constitution, she believes in HUD’s mission, and she believes in the law,” Smallwood wrote.
Smallwood also asked Carson for written responses to three questions:
- When are you going to apologize to Helen?
- When are you going to reinstate her?
- When will you make a public statement that all employees at HUD should feel free to follow the law, ask when they are unsure, and not fear retribution?
“I feel this should come from you directly, as you have now participated in the smear campaign against Ms. Foster with your tweet,” Smallwood added.
Williams told HousingWire that Smallwood’s email is “under review.”