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HUD official demoted for not overspending on Ben Carson's office decor: Report

The career official was told "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair," she says.
Ben Carson (Reuters)

A senior HUD official says she was demoted after refusing to illegally exceed the budget to redecorate Secretary Ben Carson's office.

Helen Foster filed a complaint with the Office of the Special Counsel, the Guardian reported on Tuesday. In the complaint, Foster said that in January 2017, acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen told her to help Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, obtain funds to redecorate the office. When Foster told Clemmensen that the legal maximum for redecorating was $5,000, Clemmensen told her that past administrations “always found ways around that.” When she didn't comply by the next month, Clemmensen told her repeatedly "to 'find money' for Mrs. Carson" and said that "$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair," the complaint said.

Foster, who was HUD's chief administration officer and oversaw HUD's FOIA office, said she was demoted after pushing back on Clemmensen’s demands. Last September, President Trump nominated Suzanne Israel Tufts, a longtime Republican operative from Queens, New York, to be HUD's secretary for administration. Foster said this made her redundant. She was moved to the position of chief privacy and FOIA officer.

“This is a longtime public servant who did well at her job, and now her reputation has been ruined,” said Joseph Kaplan, Foster’s attorney, who filed the complaint to OSC last November.

Foster also alleges that she was retaliated against for exposing a $10 million budget shortfall within the department and for complaining after being prevented from handling two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests because she was presumed to be a Democrat.

Kaplan wouldn't divulge his client's political affiliation, but the Guardian found that she had registered as a Republican in 2003.

Representatives for HUD and the OSC wouldn't comment on the case.

The Office of Special Counsel investigates government employees' complaints of improper treatment. It is not related to special counsel Robert Mueller.