On Friday, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson woke up to screaming headlines claiming he had broken the law. “HUD’s Ben Carson broke law with furniture order, GAO says,” Politico‘s headline read. “Watchdog: Housing department broke the law with $40,000 furniture purchase for Ben Carson,” CNN reported. Yet these outlets did not report the much larger number: the $125,000 spent on office furnishings under the Obama administration.
In fact, under Carson, HUD reported its spending on furniture to Congress, unlike the HUD secretaries under the Obama administration. After having ordered a $31,000 dining set, Carson canceled the order and refunded the money to the treasury. The HUD secretaries under Obama did not.
Carson’s HUD has launched an investigation into cutting costs.
“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,” Irv Dennis, HUD’s chief financial officer, told PJ Media. “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.”
Last August, when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was working on the report released Friday, HUD sent a letter on the spending, pointing out the hefty amounts HUD spent on furniture under the Obama administration. If, as GAO argued in this report, Carson broke the law with his purchases of a $31,000 dining set and a $9,000 dishwasher, then Obama’s former secretaries also broke the law.
“HUD staff have identified records supporting, in total, approximately $114,000 of obligations or expenditures related to the Office of the Secretary during the Secretary’s term in office from January 26, 2009, to July 28, 2014, which, given the assumptions above, would have been covered by section 710 or a similar provision,” Dennis wrote in the letter to GAO.
“These obligations include approximately $22,000 on miscellaneous office furniture purchases, approximately $65,000 for the purchase of 40 black leather conference room chairs, and approximately $25,000 for the purchase and installation of new carpet. HUD has no record of providing advance notice to the Committees before making these obligations or expenditures.”
HUD staff also found records showing the department “purchased and installed carpet, related to the Office of the Deputy Secretary during the Deputy Secretary’s term in office from May 8, 2009 to July 2011, at a cost of $7,853.65, which, given the assumptions above, would have been covered by section 710 or a similar provision,” Dennis added. Again, there is no record of HUD approaching congressional committees with this funding prior to the spending.
Finally, under Secretary Julián Castro (2014-2017), now a 2020 presidential candidate, HUD spent $11,101.65 on furniture.
These three episodes of furniture spending add up to $132,955.3 spent on HUD furniture during the Obama administration.
Yet these purchases were not reported to Congress, nor were they refunded by the HUD secretaries at the time. If Ben Carson has to answer for his actions, shouldn’t Obama’s HUD secretaries answer for theirs as well? Julián Castro should explain himself.
None of this justifies Carson’s actions, but it should put them in context.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.