HUD chief Carson broke law with unauthorized purchases, GAO says

HUD chief Carson broke law with unauthorized purchases, GAO says
© Anna Moneymaker

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled Thursday that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonCarson's affordable housing idea drawing undue flak Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules it says are too lax MORE violated the law with unauthorized purchases of dining ware and a dishwasher for the secretary's office.

In a letter, GAO general counsel Thomas Armstrong wrote that Carson violated official policy by purchasing items without notifying Congress.

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"HUD did violate section 710 when it obligated $31,561.00 for the purchase of a dining set for the HUD Secretary’s dining room and $8,812.84 for the purchase and installation of a new dishwasher and associated water treatment system in the kitchen connected to the dining room without providing advance notice to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate," Armstrong wrote in his letter.

"Further, because HUD obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law with regard to the dining set, as well as the dishwasher and associated water treatment system, we conclude that HUD violated the Antideficiency Act," the letter continued.

Agencies like HUD are required to inform Congress of expenditures to furnish an executive's office that exceed $5,000.

A spokesman for HUD noted that multiple secretaries had run afoul of the Antideficiency Act, with Carson being just the latest offender, and said that the agency was taking steps to address financial responsibility by officials.

“In the year since we embarked upon this effort, we’ve made significant and measurable improvement to our financial controls, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. A new day is dawning at HUD. Our job is to make sure systems are in place to protect every taxpayer dollar we spend and to restore sound financial management and stability to the way we do business," HUD Chief Financial Officer Irv Dennis added in a statement to The Hill.

Reports of the purchase of a roughly $31,000 set of dining ware first surfaced early last year. Carson later suggested that his wife Candy Carson had been behind the purchases during testimony to the House Appropriations Committee. His wife is not a HUD employee.

"When I assumed the position I was told that, traditionally, secretaries redecorate their offices," Ben Carson told the committee last year. "You know I'm not really big into decorating. If it were up to me, my office would probably look like a hospital waiting room. At any rate, I invited my wife in to come help me."

"I asked my wife also to help me with that," Carson continued at the time. "They showed us some catalogs. The prices were beyond what I wanted to pay and I made it clear that just didn't seem right to me. I left it with my wife, I said 'help choose something.'"

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings Senate Democrats demand Trump order review of White House security clearances Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee in charge of HUD, blasted Carson's spending in a statement Thursday, calling it "willful disregard" for taxpayer dollars.

"It is wrong for someone in his position to purchase a fancy $31,000 dining set for his office while trying to slash funds for Americans struggling to find affordable housing. I am also disturbed by the pattern of false statements and attempts to conceal this incident, mislead the public, and prevent Congress and the American people from seeing how taxpayer dollars are being mismanaged," the senator said.

The GAO wrote in its report that HUD officials vowed to set up a task force in the department to "improve its internal procedures."