When Ben Carson assumed his role as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he and his wife Candy set out to bring the office up to standards, shelling out some serious cash – including $31,000 for a dining set – to make that happen.
When the total spend came to light, Carson shrugged off the decorating expenses as standard for any incoming secretary.
Not so much, said the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO, which was tasked with investigating whether Carson’s use of HUD funds violated federal laws, released a letter Thursday detailing its findings.
While it approved of some of Carson’s office expenditures for the benefit of the staff, it took issue with the dining set purchase as well as a dishwasher and associated water treatment system for Carson’s office.
These items were purchased without informing Congress, which is statutorily required for the purchase of items to furnish an executive’s office that exceed $5,000. By failing to inform Congress, Carson violated the Antideficiency Act, the GAO concluded.
Carson’s extravagant décor spend came to light in February 2018 after The New York Times revealed that a whistleblower complaint was filed against Candy Carson for pressuring department officials to locate money for the redecoration efforts.
At the time, Carson said he “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but did not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it,” HUD spokesperson Raffi Williams said.
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” Williams added.
Willams pointed out to HousingWire that the last administration spent more than $100,000 on office items and did not report it, calling this an issue that pre-dates Carson.
HUD’s Chief Financial Officer Irv Dennis said HUD is committed to protected taxpayer dollars.
“In the year since we embarked upon this effort, we’ve made significant and measurable improvement to our financial controls, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us," Dennis said. “A new day is dawning at HUD. Our job is to make sure systems are in place to protect every taxpayer dollar we spend and to restore sound financial management and stability to the way we do business.”