I recently told you about how HUD supposedly spent a whopping $31,000 on a dining set for Ben Carson’s office. The story was everywhere.
However, we’ve retracted the original post, because I made a total rookie mistake. The information was correct when I drafted it, BUT there were a few really important updates that popped up shortly after, and I missed them.
You might be wondering why I decided to write about that fiasco in the first place. Because I wasn’t pleased with what NYT told me was Carson’s initial response.
Mr. Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased,” but does not believe the cost was too steep and does not intend to return it, said Raffi Williams, a HUD spokesman.
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” he added.
That statement really annoyed me. If you wanted to be fiscally prudent, you‘d either 1.) Pay for the desk out of our own pocket or 2.) Do everything in your power to get rid of the desk.
I just wanted to make sure we were holding guys on our side accountable. It didn’t originally sound like Carson was planning on doing anything about it. Heck, even Gowdy jumped all over it.
“To help the Committee determine whether HUD adhered to the applicable spending limitations while redecorating your office, please provide … [a]ll documents and communications referring or relating to redecorating, furnishing, or equipping your office since January 1, 2017,” Gowdy wrote to Carson, according to a letter released Wednesday reported by Politico.
But clearly, I jumped the gun. There are a few really important updates the original post didn’t include, and for that I apologize.
Here they are.
“At the request of the secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set,” Armstrong Williams, Mr. Carson’s business manager and an informal adviser, said on Thursday.
He added, however, that “it might not be possible.”
On Tuesday, Raffi Williams, a department spokesman said Mr. Carson had no problem with the order and no intention of returning the table. But early Thursday, Mr. Williams said the secretary, who was sharply criticized for the purchase at a time when his agency is facing $6.8 billion in budget cuts requested by the White House, seemed to change his mind.
“Nobody was more surprised than me,” about the order, Mr. Carson said in a statement.
And Williams continues to say that Carson knew nothing about the furniture.
But several department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said it would have been highly unusual for Mr. Carson not to have been told that a significant section of his office suite was about to be upgraded.
According to Mr. Williams, neither Mr. Carson nor his wife, Candy Carson, had any prior knowledge of the order, although a whistle-blower has said Mrs. Carson had pressured her to circumvent a $5,000 statutory limit on renovation expenses.
Canceling the order for the custom-made furniture will not be easy, and it is unlikely the government will recoup all its money even if the dining room set is never delivered. It was ordered Dec. 21 from a small Baltimore company.
“He’s not returning the table; he is attempting to cancel the order,” Mr. Williams said. “HUD is a bureaucracy, so everything is complicated. The person they contracted has already spent $14,000 making the table. While his intentions are to cancel it, we have to see what happens.”
In addition, Carson released a huge statement of his own:
Before I actually occupied my office, I was told what previous secretaries did when they redecorated. I was asked what I wanted to do.
I visited the basement where previously used furniture was kept and my wife visited as well. We selected some chairs and made some minor changes. Additionally drapes that had previously hung in my office were brought back and blinds were put on the windows. The total redecoration cost was less than $3500. This is considerably less than the historical norm.
Dining room redecoration:
The secretary’s dining room is used for business luncheons with a wide variety of people and groups. The furniture is 30 to 50 years old and is very worn. It has also been characterized as unsafe.
I did not request new furniture, but asked if it could be remediated. I was subsequently told that it was beyond repair and needed to be replaced.
I briefly looked at catalogs for dining furniture and was shocked by the cost of the furniture. My wife asked if used furniture was an option. Our acquisition process did not allow for that.
We were told there was a $25,000 budget that had to be used by a certain time or it would be lost. I indicated that they needed to take care of the needs of the deputy secretary out of that money too. My wife also looked at catalogs and wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decour.
I made it known that I was not happy about the prices being charged and that my preference would be to find something more reasonable.
I left this matter alone to concentrate on much bigger issues. I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered. I have requested that the order be canceled. We will find another solution for the furniture replacement.
Benjamin S Carson Sr MD
He wanted to fix the old furniture. Then he asked for “new” used furniture. They wouldn’t allow it. He expressed his point of view and went on to focus on larger issues only to come back and find out they wasted $31,000.
Morals of the story here? 1.) Don’t jump the gun (I AM SO SORRY OMG) and 2.) Bureaucracy sucks.