Senior official Helen Foster in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) claims she was demoted and replaced with a Donald Trump appointee after refusing to break the law by funding an expensive redecoration of HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s office.
Foster’s complaint letter stated that the day before Trump’s inauguration, Foster was asked by acting HUD director Craig Clemmensen to help Carson’s wife, Candy, obtain funds for the redecoration of her husband’s office suite. When Foster replied that there was a statutory limit of $5,000, Clemmensen allegedly told her that administrations had “always found ways around that in the past”.
Foster said she was told “$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair” after informing her bosses that $5,000 was the legal price limit for improvements to the HUD secretary’s suite at the department’s Washington headquarters. To exceed that limit was possible, but would require the approval of congress.
When she had not relented by 10 February, Foster was repeatedly told by Clemmensen “to ‘find money’ for Mrs Carson”. Foster said she complained to HUD’s budget director about being asked to break the spending limit.
Under Carson, HUD has agreed to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for its Washington headquarters (in addition to the $31,000 dining set purchased for Carson’s office). Carson’s decor spending come as President Trump’s has proposed a cut of $6.8bn to HUD’s annual budget, or roughly 14% of its total spending, which would lead to reductions in programs designed to help poor and homeless Americans.
Foster also claimed that she faced retaliation for exposing a $10m budget shortfall, and for protesting when she was barred from handling a pair of sensitive freedom of information act (FOIA) requests relating to Trump apparently because she was perceived to be a Democrat.
A copy of a complaint letter filed by Foster to a watchdog for federal employees alleges that HUD violated laws protecting whistleblowers from reprisals. Foster is seeking a public apology, compensatory damages and reinstatement as HUD’s chief administrative officer.
“This is a long-time public servant who did well at her job, and now her reputation has been ruined,” said Foster’s attorney, Joseph Kaplan, who filed the complaint to the office of special counsel (OSC) last November.
Foster’s complaint said that shortly before the contentious incidents, her performance had been rated “excellent” in an annual review, and that she received bonus pay worth 12% of her salary as a reward.