WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s independent watchdog on Thursday cleared Secretary Ben Carson of any misconduct in connection with the order of a $31,000 dining room set for his office suite.
HUD's Office of Inspector General launched a probe last year into allegations that Carson violated federal law by authorizing a purchase of more than $5,000 without first notifying congressional appropriations committees, a legal requirement.
HUD obligated $31,561 for the dining set in December 2017. Carson canceled the order in May 2018 after media reports raised questions about the legality of the procurement.
Investigators concluded that the furniture order went forward because career officials determined the existing dining set could not be repaired and should instead be replaced.
Carson said he was "fine" with ordering new furniture but left the particulars to his staff and "stylistic input" to his wife.
Carson told investigators it "seemed like" he was not to spend more than $5,000 on improvements to his office space, but he believed those rules applied only to his personal office and not his suite. He also said he was told there were funds available to replace the 30-year-old dining set.
Investigators "found no evidence indicating that either Secretary or Mrs. Carson exerted improper influence on any departmental employee in connection with the procurement," the report said.
In an interview with Fox Business Network on Thursday, Carson said the report demonstrates he "had very little to do with the whole story. There's probably no one in Washington who cares less about furniture than I do."
According to federal appropriations law, agency heads or other presidentially appointed officials may not spend more than $5,000 on redecorating or furnishing their offices without first notifying Congress.
Investigators wrote that the department "believed it had a good-faith reason" to purchase new furniture, but the officials who made the order "should have been aware that notification to Congress was required," and such an oversight indicates "a systemic failure."
HUD acknowledged that the procurement violated federal appropriations law, adding that the agency has "historically lacked effective internal controls" to make sure all purchases are within legal limits. The IG said the department was working to prevent further violations of the appropriations law.
In May the Government Accountability Office determined the furniture order violated federal law. HUD says it has since addressed longstanding procurement problems and notified the GAO of other possible violations.
A former HUD employee, Helen Foster, filed a complaint against the agency last year. Foster said she was demoted after raising concerns over costly purchases and refusing to comply with a request to “find money.”