According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson broke the law when he spent more than $30,000 of department funds on a dining set for his office, in addition to other pricey amenities, Talking Points Memo reports. Per agency regulations, Carson would have needed to notify Congress when spending more than $5,000 on office furnishings. The dining room set was purchased for $31,561. An additional item, an $8,000 dishwasher, also for the office, likewise exceeded the threshold for congressional notification.
The GAO spelled out the infractions in a letter to the respective congressional heads of Senate and House Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.
"HUD did violate section 710 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2017 when it failed to notify the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate prior to obligating in excess of $5,000 for the purchase of a dining set for the HUD Secretary's dining room and for the purchase and installation of a dishwasher in the adjoining kitchen," the letter read, in part.
Not in violation, according to the letter, was the purchase of a set of blinds for Carson's office, which came in just below the $5,000 threshold. While not a violation of the law, the GAO did point out that the blinds were upgraded beyond the standard blinds used for HUD purposes elsewhere in the office building, with premium wooden slats.Last year, when news of the dining set purchase made headlines and raised congressional eyebrows, Carson downplayed his own involvement in the selection and indicated that he had largely deferred to his wife to replace the dining set previously used in the office. Carson said that he had been too busy running the department to concern himself with furniture purchases and that he had asked his wife to help only after a chair broke from the existing set, necessitating a replacement.
"I left it with my wife," he told the House Appropriations Committee when questioned about the expensive purchase.
The statement directly contradicted remarks made by a department spokesperson, who denied that either of the Carsons were at all involved in the decision. Carson, in his testimony to the committee, contended not only that he hadn't been aware of the high cost of the items, but that upon finding out about the hefty price tag, he immediately cancelled the order.
In response to the GAO inquiry, HUD staff have committed to creating a task force to find ways to better ensure compliance with regulations around such purchases.