Ben Carson's office has managed to become entangled in a controversy involving its own furniture. Whistleblower Helen Foster says she was demoted and transferred from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Carson heads, after she refused to go over the legal $5,000 limit to redecorate his office, the Guardian reports. In a federal complaint, Foster says she was told by acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen to "find money" for the redecoration. She said that when she refused to break the law, she was told that administrations had always found their way around the limit in the past—and that "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair." Federal law requires congressional approval if the cost of furnishing the office of a department head goes beyond $5,000.
A former HUD staffer tells CNN that a lot of staff time was wasted on the redecoration project. "Instead of focusing on HUD's mission, we were talking about furniture for the secretary's office," the former employee says. Federal procurement records show that Carson's office ended up spending more than $31,000 on a new hardwood table and chairs in late 2017, just as the administration announced major cuts to HUD programs helping older and low-income Americans, the New York Times reports. HUD spokesman Raffi Williams tells the Times that the department didn't request congressional approval for the spend because the dining set in Carson's 10th-floor offices "serves a building-wide need." Williams says Carson believes in being "fiscally prudent"—but he isn't planning to send the table back.