Liberal watchdog sues 16 agencies for redecorating expense records

Liberal watchdog sues 16 agencies for redecorating expense records
© Camille Fine

A liberal watchdog group is suing 16 federal agencies for records to determine how much they have spent upgrading the offices of senior officials.

In the 12-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, American Oversight alleges that the agencies failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests it sent in November. Those requests sought records of expenditures and projected expenditures relating to redecorating senior officials’ offices.

American Oversight said two previous lawsuits it filed exposed records showing Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonAid restrictions sideline Puerto Rican civil society Trump administration ending delay on over B in Puerto Rico disaster aid HUD to roll back Obama-era housing desegregation rule MORE had ordered a $31,000 dining room set for his office and that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses MORE spent $43,000 installing a soundproof phone booth in his office.

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Carson has since directed his staff to cancel the order for the dinning room set, saying he was just “as surprised as anyone” to find out about the purchase.

EPA officials, meanwhile, have defended Pruitt’s phone booth, saying it’s necessary for him to have secure area to communicate with the White House.

Wednesday’s lawsuit comes as ethical controversies over how Cabinet officials are spending taxpayer money pile up.

“Trump cabinet officials have a track record of unnecessary, extravagant expenditures at taxpayer expense, most recently with Ben Carson’s attempt to buy a $31,000 dining set and Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 phone booth,” Melanie Sloan, a senior adviser at American Oversight, said in a statement. 

“Combined with all the first class travel that’s also been revealed, it seems it’s not only the president who has a penchant for luxury. Taxpayers have a right to know if they’re footing the bills for opulent vanity items,” she said.

The lawsuit was bought against the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, Labor, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and State, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration.