A senior administrative official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleges she was demoted after refusing to illegally circumvent the $5,000 cap to redecorate Ben Carson’s office, according to a report from the Guardian.
The career official, Helen Foster, said in a complaint that she was repeatedly told by her bosses that “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” when she told them that was the limit for the redecoration. The Guardian reported that it obtained a copy of that complaint filed in November to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates allegations of improper treatment from civil servants.
According to the complaint, HUD’s acting director asked Foster the day before Trump’s inauguration to “find money” for Carson’s wife, Candy, for the redecoration of Carson’s office suite. The director allegedly told Foster that people “always found ways around [the $5,000 cap] in the past.” Foster, then HUD’s chief administrative official, said she then complained to HUD’s budget director about the request.
In the complaint, Foster said she also angered senior officials in the agency in May when she flagged a $10.8 million hole in the HUD budget that arose from “accounting irregularities,” according to the Guardian. In the complaint, she said she reported the deficit to the department’s chief operating officer and was told the “agency leadership is unwilling to report” it.
The third incident she alleges led to retaliation involved two Freedom of Information Act requests for information about Lynne Patton, a former event planner for the Trump family who was given a high-profile job she was unqualified for at HUD. In February 2017, the department’s lawyers reached out to because they had “been asked to discreetly handle these two FOIA requests outside of the normal FOIA processes,” according to the Guardian.
Foster wrote in the complaint that the attorneys told her that HUD’s liaison to the White House had made the request and that the FOIA requests would reveal that Patton had wanted that HUD liaison fired “because she was critical of President Trump.” Another HUD attorney told Foster that she was being barred from handling the requests because she was perceived to be a Democrat. Foster reported the incident, which she considered an attempt to break federal law. She was eventually allowed to handle the requests, according to the Guardian.
After these incidents, a position above her that had been left unfilled during Obama’s administration was reinstated and filled with a Trump appointee. Foster was then reassigned in July 2017 to the role of chief privacy and FOIA officer for the department.