On Tuesday, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) publicly addressed the controversy surrounding the purchase of new furniture for his office. While testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Secretary Ben Carson blamed the "excessive" $31,000 office purchase on his wife, Candy. According to the HuffPost, Carson testified that he "left it [the decision on what to purchase] with my wife" and requested that she "help choose something."
Carson's testimony on Tuesday came following weeks of criticism of the Secretary, after reports emerged in February that HUD had spent $31,000 on a new dining set for the Secretary's office. According to USA Today, the expenditure came to light after Helen Foster, the former chief administrative officer at HUD, filed a complaint with a federal whistleblower agency.
In her complaint, Foster alleged that she was demoted because she insisted on enforcing a $5,000 legal limit for expenditures for office furnishings. According to the New York Times, Foster also alleged that she was told by HUD's acting head at the time to "find money" to cover expenses in excess of the amount. When Foster's complaint was made public, HUD declined to comment directly on Foster's allegations. However, a HUD spokesperson, Raffi Williams, did tell the New York Times on Feb. 27 that neither the secretary nor his wife requested that the table be replaced. Williams also said that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased."
Williams' initial comments seem to differ a bit from those offered by Carson on Tuesday during the hearing. As the Washington Post reported, Carson said in his testimony that, several months after he became HUD Secretary, he was informed that the dining room set needed to be replaced and that he and his wife were shown some catalogues with potential options. Carson also noted that, at the time, he had made it clear that the prices of the furniture were “beyond what I wanted to pay.”
Carson then made his aforementioned comment that he left the decision about the furniture with his wife. As the Post further reported, Carson said he asked Candy to choose the style and color of the table “with the caveat that we were not happy with the pricing and they needed to find something.”
Carson also testified that "The next thing that I, quite frankly, heard about it was that this $31,000 table had been bought ... I said, ‘What the heck is that all about?’ I investigated, I immediately had it canceled. Not that we don’t need the furniture, but I thought that that was excessive.” Carson did issue a request to cancel the order on March 1, with Spokesperson Williams telling The Guardian in an email on that day, “At the request of the secretary, the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set.”
During the hearing, Carson was asked about the seeming inconsistencies between his spokesperson's initial statement regarding the table and his own comments on the issue. In response, Carson said, “I can tell you what I did ... I do not intend to be responsible for what anyone else said.”
Carson also defended his wife, Candy, during the hearing, saying "If anybody knew my wife, they would realize how ridiculous this was ... She’s the most frugal person in the world.” He also emphasized during the hearing that the table had needed to be replaced for safety reasons, not aesthetics. “It’s my understanding that the facilities people felt that the dining room table was actually dangerous," Carson said. "People are being stuck by nails, a chair collapsed with somebody sitting in it, it’s 50 years old," he added.
According to CNN, Carson also testified that the order for the dining set was successfully cancelled and that the funds spent on it had been returned to the U.S. Treasury.