Top Democratic senators are demanding an investigation into controversial spending at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Controversy flared at the department recently when it was reported that HUD intended to spend more than $31,000 on a dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office. HUD is only allocated $5,000 for furnishing the secretary’s office.
On Tuesday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sent a letter to HUD’s inspector general requesting “that the Office of the Inspector General promptly open an investigation into the circumstances involving the expenditures for any furniture in the Secretary’s suite, as well as if there were any violations in the use of taxpayer funds for such purchases.”
The senators also demanded an investigation into allegations that a HUD employee faced retaliation for trying to stick to the rules.
According to reports, Helen Foster, the chief administrative officer for HUD, was asked in January by Acting HUD Secretary Craig Clemmensen to help obtain funds for redecorating Carson’s office. Foster said that when she informed Clemmensen that the department was prohibited from spending more than $5,000 on the office without providing prior notice to congressional appropriations committees, Clemmensen replied that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.”
HUD officials then allegedly ordered a $31,561 dining-room set for Carson’s office – and Foster was transferred to a new position. She promptly filed a complaint stating that she believed she had been demoted in retaliation for raising concerns about the purchase and a $10.8 million budget shortfall she had identified.
“We should accept nothing less than a full and transparent explanation of what happened, whether any violations of ethics rules or law occurred, who is responsible for any violations, and how to prevent such violations in the future,” Brown and Menendez wrote. “If true, this is exactly the type of behavior that undermines Americans’ trust that their government will be an effective steward of their taxpayer dollars. Whistleblowers and federal government employees who expose waste, fraud, and abuse by public officials should be applauded, not retaliated against. We therefore respectfully request that the Office of the Inspector General promptly open an investigation into the allegations involving potential illicit activity regarding HUD official expenses.”