US & Canada

US housing boss cancels order for $31,000 dining room set

Ben Carson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Housing Secretary allegedly spent thousands of dollars on a dining room office set

US Housing Secretary Ben Carson has cancelled an order for an office dining room set that cost about $31,000 (£23,000), US media report.

A spokesman for the Department of House and Urban Development (HUD) said it was working to "rescind the order".

HUD officials say the expensive purchase was made without Secretary Carson's knowledge.

The move came a day after a congressional oversight panel opened an inquiry into his agency's renovation.

HUD spokesman Raffi Williams said on Thursday that "the agency is working to rescind the order for the dining room set" at Mr Carson's request.

"I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered", Mr Carson said in a statement.

The former Republican presidential candidate was reportedly only aware of the purchase of blinds for his office, which cost less that $5,000, according to the agency.

He tweeted on Wednesday that "there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing by us".

The furniture order was cancelled after the head of the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Republican Trey Gowdy, sent a letter to Mr Carson's office asking it to produce documents related to the purchase to deterimine "whether HUD adhered to the applicable spending limitations".

The dining room set included a mahogany table, sideboard, breakfront and 10 chairs with a blue velvet finish, CNN reported, citing purchase documents.

The revelations about HUD's renovations came to light after a former employee filed a complaint alleging she was demoted for refusing to approve furnishings to redecorate Mr Carson's office.

Helen Foster, who worked as the agency's chief administrative officer during the Trump administration transition, filed a complaint in November to the Office of Special Counsel that she was told to approve funds for the renovations even though they exceeded the $5,000 limit for decorating expenses.

The agency has said it did not spend more than the legal limit for the renovations.

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Media captionBen Carson wanted Katty Kay's mic turned off during a tense interview

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the department would not go forward with the purchase in a news briefing on Thursday.

She added the agency was looking for "another option that is much more responsible with tax payers' dollars".

She dismissed reports that President Donald Trump was looking to fire Mr Carson or other members of his cabinet involved in recent spending scandals.

"If you're asking if he's getting rid of anyone on the cabinet, I'm not aware that's taking place", said Ms Sanders.

Five other Trump cabinet officials have faced ethics probes related to travel costs while conducting official business for the White House. Others include:

  • US Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin earlier this month said he would reimburse the treasury department after an internal watchdog found he used tax dollars to fund a European trip
  • Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary in September 2017 amid a row over more than $400,000 in tax dollars spent on charter and luxury flights
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was criticised by his agency's inspector general for not properly documenting his travel on private planes with his wife
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced an investigation after he was accused of spending more than $800,000 in tax dollars on military aircraft for leisure purposes
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is currently being probed for his use of private planes and luxury airliners

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