Ben Carson never really belonged in HUD

Afraid to confront the president about department needs, Carson is left frustrated and ill-equipped

By Charlie May
March 5, 2018 4:48PM (UTC)
main article image
Dr. Ben Carson is sworn in as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (AP/Olivier Douliery)

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson is a timid outlier in President Donald Trump's administration, who, despite any possible meaningful intentions, doesn't exactly belong in the position he's in — and he pretty much knows it too.

"There are more complexities here than in brain surgery," Carson said of his department, in a big New York Times profile. "Doing this job is going to be a very intricate process."


Carson has considered leaving HUD due to recent spats over a slash in the department's budget, people close to him told the Times. The Times added that his "own lapses in judgment — combined with the questionable behavior of his family and his reluctance to aggressively engage Mr. Trump" were to blame.

Trump also looks at Carson as a "beta" and not as someone who is a "killer" or someone who would stand in opposition to him. He's the perfect sycophant for a president hellbent on devout loyalty.

But even though the president has cut the department's budget, Carson has tried to keep a straight face. He told the Times that he "[believes] what the president believes," adding, "We are in a very precarious situation with North Korea, with radical terrorists who want to destroy us, with the Soviet Union, who has ambitions." An aide later clarified that Carson had referred to Russia, not the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist two and a half decades ago.


The former neurosurgeon, who had no prior government experience, has also faced difficulty from within his own department. The Times said that Carson's first six months at the department "were marked by damaging infighting and the departure of dozens of experienced people."

The Times profile painted a man who appears to be constantly asleep at the wheel. The department's own staffers are not sold on his plan, in which its goals of "fostering self-sufficiency" are essentially at odds with the purpose of the department — providing assistance to those in need, not encouraging them to stop looking for it.

Recently, a former senior HUD official filed a lawsuit after she claimed she was demoted and punished because she pushed back against efforts to exceed the redecoration expense spending cap of $5,000. It was also reported that Carson requested an order of a table and office chairs which totaled $31,561. He later made efforts to cancel the extravagant order and claimed he wasn't aware of the purchase.


Carson does appear to have quite an ambitious plan for HUD in the coming years. Whether or not it could ever come to fruition, considering department inexperience and a less than enthused president, is a whole different story.

The Times explained:

Over the next three to five years, Mr. Carson hopes to establish more than 3,000 of the centers to provide low-income families, especially young people, with one-stop access to educational, job training, mentorship and health care services. But Ms. Greenwood argued that Mr. Carson’s team was not experienced enough to make it work, and it soon became apparent that there was little appetite in the White House for more than a pittance in funding — $2 million over the next year.

It seems almost too predictable that Carson's first year as the HUD brass hasn't amounted to much. Perhaps his view of the department, which consists of "HUD as a ladder out of dependency for the working poor" has played a key role in the shortcomings as well.


His overall inexperience and inability to challenge the president to secure funds shows that he was never a man who could live up to the task. Trump may have been interested in having Carson lead HUD, but he never wanted him to actually improve HUD. Trump, a man who expects absolute loyalty wanted a man who would go with the flow, and he certainly got his wish.

Charlie May

MORE FROM Charlie MayFOLLOW @charliejmay