Politics

HUD chief Ben Carson moves to cancel order for $31,561 executive dining room set

Key Points
  • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson wants to rescind an order for a $31,561 set of furniture for HUD's executive dining room.
  • HUD faces a complaint from top agency official Helen Foster, who says she was demoted after resisting requests to help Carson's wife, Candy, find more than $5,000 in agency money to redo his office.
  • A House committee has asked Carson for documents about spending on his office and about Foster's demotion.
Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Cameron Costa | CNBC

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department Secretary Ben Carson, facing fire over an order for a $31,561 executive dining room set for his office suite, has asked that the order be canceled, his spokesman said Thursday.

Carson's move came as a House committee asked him for documents related to redecorating his office and about a former top HUD official who has complained she was demoted for pushing back on a request to help Carson's wife, Candy, obtain department money to redecorate his office at a cost above a $5,000 maximum legal cap.

And it comes as President Donald Trump has called for a cut of almost $7 billion to HUD's budget. HUD provides housing to more than 4 million low-income Americans.

The complaint by former chief administrative officer Helen Foster about being pressured to help Candy Carson spend more than legally allowed on her husband's office was first reported Tuesday morning.

Hours later, news broke that HUD staffers had ordered the pricey dining room set to replace an old table and chairs in the executive dining room in Carson's suite.

The dining room, which is close to Carson's office, is used for events that include meals with visiting dignitaries.

HUD said Carson played no role in requesting that new set of furniture, which was ordered in December and has yet to be delivered.

CNN reported that the set includes a table, sideboard and breakfront, all made out of mahogany, as well as 10 mahogany chairs that have a blue velvet finish. The table and base pedestals for it alone costs $4,000.

On Wednesday night, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy's office said he had sent a letter to Carson "regarding allegations of excessive spending on the redecoration of the Secretary's office and retaliation against HUD employee and whistleblower Helen Foster."

Gowdy asked Carson for documents relating to Foster's transfer out of her role, information about the redecorating and furnishing of Carson's office in the past year, and all documents relating to such costs for the HUD secretary's office from 1998 through 2016.

Carson has only been HUD secretary since early 2017.

Gowdy's request for spending on furnishing the offices of Carson's predecessors as secretary suggest Gowdy wants to compare Carson's spending with theirs.

On Thursday, after Gowdy's letter was sent, Carson's spokesman Raffi Williams said, " At the request of the Secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set."

Williams has declined to comment on allegations in Foster's complaint that she was repeatedly told in early 2017 to "find money" for Carson's wife to purchase furniture for his office as he prepared to take over the agency.

Acting HUD Secretary Craig Clemmensen in January 2017 allegedly told Foster that the "Administration has always found money for this in the past," and that "$5000 will not even buy a decent chair," according to Foster's complaint, filed in November by her lawyer Joseph Kaplan.

HUD has said that the actual spending done for Carson's office was only $3,400 for a new set of blinds, and that Carson had visited the agency's basement to select furniture that HUD already owned to outfit his office.

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