HUD Official Says She Was Demoted After Raising Concerns About Ben Carson’s Redecoration Expenses

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson in Philadelphia on Feb. 27. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

A week before Ben Carson was confirmed as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a career official at the agency complained to a colleague about the hours she had to spend curtailing plans to redecorate his office.

Helen Foster, then HUD’s chief administration officer, wrote in an email that she had to answer “endless questions about why I won’t fund more than the $5000 limit” for redecorating the office. “I do like 3 meetings a day on that,” she wrote on Feb. 22, 2017. “I hate this.”

Foster was transferred to a new position in July, and she later told a watchdog agency that she believed she was demoted in retaliation for concerns she expressed about office expenses and potential violations of open-records laws. Foster said she had been excluded from handling Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Democratic National Committee — even though she oversaw department FOIA responses as part of her duties — because one of President Trump’s appointees believed she was a Democrat.

On Tuesday, HUD spokesman Raffi Williams denied that the department overspent to redecorate Carson’s office, saying that used chairs were brought up from a basement and that blinds were replaced at a cost of $3,400. Williams said he could not address the specific allegations in Foster’s complaint, including her charges that the redecorating effort was spurred by Carson’s wife, Candy, and that the Democrats’ FOIA requests received special treatment.

Foster’s complaint is the latest indication of tension between some long-standing federal employees and Trump administration appointees. From the moment Carson assumed his post in early March 2017, the presence of his family members has rankled some of HUD’s staff. Last summer, department lawyers raised concerns over the role Carson’s son Ben played in organizing an agency “listening tour” in Baltimore.

In her complaint, Foster wrote that, shortly before Trump’s inauguration, soon-to-be Acting Secretary Craig Clemmensen told her that Candy Carson wanted the office upgraded and instructed her to find money for the project. Ben Carson was nominated in December 2016 to lead the agency.

Foster told Clemmensen that under federal law the department could not spend more than $5,000 on decorating the secretary’s office without providing advance notice to the House and Senate appropriations committees, according to the complaint. Clemmensen told her “$5000 will not even buy a decent chair” and instructed her to “find money,” Foster wrote.

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SOURCE: LA Times; The Washington Post