Ben Carson—the esteemed neurosurgeon turned failed Republican presidential candidate turned secretary of Housing and Urban Development—doesn’t want people living in public housing to be too comfortable. His own office is a different story.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that a HUD staffer purchased a $31,000 dining set for Carson’s office after Carson complained the old table “was covered in scratches, scuff marks and cracks.”
Under federal law, Congress must approve any furniture purchase for the office of a department head that exceeds $5,000. Nevertheless, Carson says he will not be returning the dining set, according to the Times:
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.
Meanwhile, the White House’s 2019 budget proposes to slash HUD’s budget by $8.8 billion, put in place work requirements for people who receive housing subsidies, and zero out money for the Public Housing Capital Fund, which gives money to agencies to develop, finance, and modernize public housing developments.
The dining room set incident comes after Carson allegedly demoted Helen Foster, a top HUD official, after she refused to break the $5,000 redecorating rule.
As the Guardian reported:
Helen Foster said she was told “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” after informing her bosses this was the legal price limit for improvements to the HUD secretary’s suite at the department’s Washington headquarters.
Foster, 47, claimed that she also faced retaliation for exposing a $10 million budget shortfall, and for protesting when she was barred from handling a pair of sensitive freedom of information act (FOIA) requests relating to Trump apparently because she was perceived to be a Democrat.
Carson’s governing philosophy (to use a generous term) can best be summed up as “bootstrapping for thee, not for me.” At a forum last December, Carson told public housing residents in New York City—where there is a $17 billion backlog of maintenance requests—that if they want repairs made, they should do it themselves.
“Your toilet’s running, I’m not calling the [public housing authority], I’m lifting the lid. I’m gonna see if I can fix it because I’m saving the money,” Carson said, according to WNYC. “And if you leave public assistance within 5 to 10 years, you get the money for a down payment.”
This story is the perfect example of how corruption in the Trump administration has become the order of the day. From Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 soundproof “privacy booth”; to Steve Mnuchin’s use of a military plane for his European honeymoon with Louise Linton; to Betsy DeVos’ $1 million-per-month, taxpayer-funded security detail; to Wilbur Ross investing heavily in a transoceanic shipping company while shaping international trade policy; to Ryan Zinke’s Montana neighbors coincidentally being awarded a $300 million government contract in Puerto Rico—corruption in Donald Trump’s Cabinet is as rampant as it is blatant.
We are living in an oligarchy controlled by a band of the least competent, most shamelessly corrupt bureaucrats alive. And the thing is, these Cabinet members are acting this way in part because they know there’s no cop on the watch. Who’s going to investigate them, Mitch McConnell, husband of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao?
While touring a housing complex in Ohio last year, Carson complained that subsidized housing shouldn’t provide “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”
To that, I say: Congratulations, Dr. Carson, on the new dining set. But please, sir, don’t let those nice accommodations make you too complacent.