WASHINGTON, DC - Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson violated the law when he obligated over $40,000 in taxpayer dollars to purchase a lavish dining set, a new dishwasher, and associated water treatment system for his executive dining room and kitchen.
The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal agencies from obligating or expending government funds in advance or in excess of an appropriation.
GAO found that HUD failed to notify Congress, as required by law, before exceeding a $5,000 purchase limitation and obligating $31,561.00 for a new dining set and $8,812.84 to purchase and install a new dishwasher and associated water treatment system for the Secretary’s kitchen.
The illegal action was brought to light by a HUD whistleblower, Helen Foster, who, records show, was a registered-Republican, and who claimed she was demoted after reporting that the furniture far exceeded the $5,000 legal cost limit. Then-acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen had instructed Ms. Foster, who was serving at the time as HUD’s chief administration officer, to help Secretary Carson's wife, Candy, redecorate the HUD Secretary’s executive suite using taxpayer funds. Ms. Foster, who felt she was being pressured to violate the law, objected.
Moreover, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams initially denied that either Secretary Carson or his wife had any involvement in the dining set selection, telling CNN: “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.” But e mails uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request directly contradicted that narrative.
After the media reported on the story of the $31,000 dining set, Secretary Carson requested the order be canceled.
In a letter today to U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and other members of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee (THUD), GAO concluded: “that HUD did violate section 710 when it obligated $31,561.00 for the purchase of a dining set for the HUD Secretary’s dining room and $8,812.84 for the purchase and installation of a new dishwasher and associated water treatment system in the kitchen connected to the dining room without providing advance notice to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Further, because HUD obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law with regard to the dining set, as well as the dishwasher and associated water treatment system, we conclude that HUD violated the Antideficiency Act.”
On a separate issue, with respect to a $4,160.81 purchase by Secretary Carson for new, upgraded wooden blinds for the Secretary’s inner and outer office suite, GAO concluded that the purchase was consistent with the law and “HUD did not violate section 710 when it obligated $4,160.81 for new blinds.”
“This may seem like a small amount of money, but it is yet another example of the Trump Administration trying to cast aside the law if it doesn’t suit them. Secretary Carson and his staff violated the Antideficiency Act and showed a willful disregard for the appropriate use of taxpayers dollars. Unfortunately, Secretary Carson is not the only Trump cabinet official who has been caught mismanaging and misusing taxpayer funds. It is wrong for someone in his position to purchase a fancy $31,000 dining set for his office while trying to slash funds for Americans struggling to find affordable housing. I am also disturbed by the pattern of false statements and attempts to conceal this incident, mislead the public, and prevent Congress and the American people from seeing how taxpayer dollars are being mismanaged. There needs to be more accountability at HUD and stronger oversight of the Trump Administration or else this pattern of unlawful behavior will continue, and I worry it won’t just be a small amount of money the next time ,” said Senator Reed.
The eight-page letter from GAO general counsel Thomas H. Armstrong concluded that “because HUD obligated its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, HUD violated the Antideficiency Act. HUD should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law.”