HUD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report finding no evidence of misconduct by Secretary Ben Carson related to a controversy surrounding efforts to purchase expensive furniture for his office.
The investigation focused on whether Carson and his wife improperly tried to purchase a dining set that cost $31,561 as part of an office update when he first took the position. The law sets a cap of $5,000 for office furnishings when new Secretaries take their posts.
The investigation focused on whether Secretary Carson and his wife improperly influenced career staff in the purchase. The officials who had placed the dining set order had determined that the existing furniture was in “poor condition” and “should be replaced.” Carson had asked his wife to provide “stylistic input” into furnishing his office.
In December 2017, HUD officials obligated the $31,561 to purchase the dining set. HUD’s former chief administrative officer, Helen Foster, complained about the cost of the purchase, noting that any furnishing requests over $5,000 needed Congressional approval. She also said that she was demoted in retaliation for bringing the issue up. Foster said the dining set request was made by Carson’s wife, and that top administration officials had told her, “the department has always found money for this in the past,” and that, “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
The OIG found that Secretary Carson had left furnishing the office up to career officials. It said, “We found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement.” It also said, “We did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate allegations of misconduct on the part of Secretary Carlson in connection with this procurement.”
Secretary Carson cancelled the furniture order in March 2018 in response to growing press about the controversy. The OIG did not recommend any actions because the purchase was never completed and no misconduct was found. They also noted that HUD is addressing the legal ramifications of the dining set request, and improving procurement practices to avoid future appropriations law violations.
In the end, Secretary Carson furnished most of his office suite with furniture from storage in HUD’s basement.
Fox News was the first to obtain the report.