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Politics HUD emails show pressure to exceed $5,000 cap on Carson's office

18:40  15 march  2018
18:40  15 march  2018 Source:   cbsnews.com

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Internal Department of Housing and Urban Development emails obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight reveal pressure within the agency to spend beyond the $ 5 , 000 statutory limit on HUD Secretary Ben Carson ' s office furnishings. Carson is under fire after his office ordered an

Carson has called on HUD ' s inspector general to review the issue. The IG' s office calls it an "open matter." Carson has said that his family is "under attack" On February 1, Foster received an email from Kenneth Free, the special agent in charge of HUD ' s protective services division , following up on

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson testifies during the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. © Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson testifies during the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

Internal Department of Housing and Urban Development emails obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight reveal pressure within the agency to spend beyond the $5,000 statutory limit on HUD Secretary Ben Carson's office furnishings. Carson is under fire after his office ordered an expensive furniture set for his office, as CNN first reported.

But new emails released Wednesday show there was persistent pressure from within the agency to find a workaround to spend more than the $5,000 limit under law -- despite repeated emphasis from some inside the agency that the $5,000 limit is set in stone. Under federal law, Congress must be notified of any executive office renovation exceeding $5,000, and that notification must also go through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent ,000 last year to replace a dining room set in the office of Secretary Ben Carson , according to The revelation follows CNN' s reporting that in early 2017, a top HUD career employee was pressured to find funds beyond the legal $ 5 , 000 limit to

The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent ,561 redecorating Secretary Ben Carson ’ s office late last year, the New York Times Although HUD claims that Ben Carson did not request a replacement for the original table, and did not know that a new table had been purchased

Notably, one email suggests Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, had some involvement in the furniture selected -- despite a HUD spokesman's previous claim that Carson and his wife "had no awareness that the table was being purchased." The emails mention Carson's wife multiple times as someone who was involved in providing input and making decisions in the refurbishing effort.

"I believe Allison has print outs of the furniture the secretary and Mrs. Carson picked," an Aug. 29, 2017, email from HUD chief of staff Sheila Greenwood to HUD administrative officer Aida Rodriguez and executive assistant to the secretary Allison Mills reads.

Another HUD employee exchange pointed department officials to a $24,666 quote for a dining room table, hutch and chairs. But that was after six months of deliberation and staffers repeatedly pointing out $5,000 is the legal limit for any office renovations. The order was ultimately canceled after public pressure.

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HUD Secretary Ben Carson on March 24 in Pompano Beach, Florida. A senior administrative official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleges she was demoted after refusing to illegally circumvent the $ 5 , 000 cap to redecorate Ben Carson ’ s office , according to a report from the

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) announced on Wednesday that the committee is probing whether Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) Secretary Ben Carson ' s used " excessive spending" on the redecor.

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The emails also reveal that Carson's dissatisfaction with the options readily and cheaply available to him in HUD's basement took up months of time from the agency tasked with finding housing solutions for the last fortunate, frustrating some employees who viewed the legal $5,000 spending cap as the end of the line.

"He only gets 5k for new stuff," then-HUD chief administrative officer Helen Foster wrote to fellow employee Kevin Cooke on March 3, 2017, at 2:38 p.m. "He chose to use it on window treatments." Foster eventually claimed she was demoted over her unwillingness to exceed the $5,000 limit.

Acquiring new furniture for Carson's office was a priority from day one -- and before. On his first official day as secretary, Carson expressed displeasure with the chairs in his office.

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Former HUD staffer says she was demoted for refusing to spend over the legal $ 5 , 000 limit to redecorate Ben Carson ' s office . In the email he wrote it was a 'single family home with no fence and backed up to a wooded area.' Days later Foster reached out to Lyberg and HUD 's Michael Moran with

The House Oversight Committee requested documents Wednesday on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson ’ s expensive office redecoration. Clemmensen continued to pressure her on behalf of Candy Carson even after Foster cited a statutory limit of $ 5 , 000 for office

"The secretary's office called and said he doesn't like his chairs," reads an email from HUD director of facilities management services Mike Schimmenti to Foster and HUD administrator Laura McClure, in an email headed "secretary's furniture request" on March 3, 2017 -- the same day he was confirmed.

Before that, on Feb. 13 at 5:43 p.m., Foster emailed HUD finance officer Sarah Lyberg, saying she had been repeatedly asked to find more money for Carson's office.

"You will recall that prior to the transition you and I had a conversation about refurbishment of the secretary's office. At that time, you informed me there is a limit of $5,000 for appropriated funds to be spent on furnishing the secretary's office," Foster wrote, attaching the relevant portion of the code. "Subsequent to our conversation, I was again asked about 'finding' additional money for furnishing the secretary's office. I have uniformly responded that we are prohibited from using appropriated funds in this fashion without direct authorization from appropriations in both the House and the Senate. But since the issue continues to be raised (and folks keep telling me how admin "always" finds more money for this) I thought I should reconfirm with you. Is there any way admin could appropriately spend additional funds over $5,000? to provide new furnishings or decorating for the secretary's office without getting appropriations approval?"

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Two hours later, Lyberg responded definitively: "We cannot exceed the statutory cap."

Asked if HUD stands by its earlier statement that the secretary was unaware of the purchase of a costly table, HUD Communications Director Raffi Williams said, "When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles." Williams did not answer a follow-up question as to how that addressed the original question, and did not answer a question about whether there is any concern at HUD about how the furniture endeavors did not take up valuable HUD employee time.

The messages also show HUD officials were asked if the agency could spend federal funds to install a home security system for the Carson residence in February, before he was confirmed.

"Another question: I have also been asked to pay to have a security system installed at the secretary's private residence. Can you advise as to whether or not this is allowed?" Foster wrote to other HUD employees on Feb. 13, 2017.

Kenneth Free, director and special agent in charge of HUD's Protective Services Division, pointed to a Washington Post story showing images of the outside and inside of Carson's home from a real estate site, without the address, saying that story could be used as justification for a home security system.

Ben Carson testifies his wife picked 'style and a color' of dining set

  Ben Carson testifies his wife picked 'style and a color' of dining set Secretary Ben Carson recalled some of his wife's involvement in picking out a dining room set for his office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, testifying before a House subcommittee, said that his wife, Candy, selected "a style and a color" of the furniture set that ultimately cost HUD $31,000. "A style and a color was selected by her with the caveat that we were not happy with the pricing and they needed to find something," Carson told lawmakers. He went on to defend her, "If anybody knew my wife, they would realize how ridiculous this was. She's the most frugal person in the world.

Yet another HUD employee informed his colleagues four requirements would have to be met in order to justify such an expenditure for a home security system, primarily that the system is crucial for Carson to perform his duties and chiefly beneficial to the agency.

The Carson family eventually paid for the system from personal funds.

The emails also reveal Carson, months into the furniture deliberations, was interested in possibly using money not for furnishing things, but to hang pictures of past secretaries instead.

"I am waiting to hear back from Mrs. Carson regarding her coming into the office to give input on redecorating the secretary's office, however I spoke with the secretary today and he had a question," wrote Carson's scheduler Jacie Coressel to Rodriguez on Aug. 9, 2017, at 1:31 p.m. "Does the money have to be used for furniture? He noted that if possible, he would like to use that money to have pictures hung of secretaries who are missing from the portrait hall outside his suite. If you have questions give me a call!"

Carson, a neurosurgeon-turned-speaker who threw his hat into the ring during the 2016 presidential cycle, has previously come under scrutiny for involving his family in HUD business. Carson called for an independent review after reports emerged that his son was involved in a HUD listening tour, against the recommendations of HUD lawyers.

But Carson is far from the only secretary whose office expenditures have drawn scrutiny. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have raised eyebrows over travel expenses, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last year after Politico revealed he was using charter planes for much of his travel.

‘I Take Responsibility,’ Carson Says of $31,000 Furniture Purchase .
Facing withering criticism from a Senate subcommittee, the secretary of housing and urban development followed the advice of his aides, who in recent days have urged him to apologize for the purchase.WASHINGTON — Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, took responsibility on Thursday for buying a $31,000 dining room set for his office, two days after saying his wife and assistant oversaw a purchase that has jeopardized his place in President Trump’s cabinet.

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