Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is facing criticism due to a new report indicating that he has staffed his department with employees chosen for their political loyalty rather than their qualifications.
Within their first months on the job, five appointees at the department were promoted and received pay increases despite being political operatives who lacked any relevant housing experience, according to The Washington Post. The annual salaries that resulted from the pay increases ranged from $98,000 to $155,000 for the five appointees, each of whom had previously worked either for Donald Trump's presidential campaign or Ben Carson's ultimately unsuccessful bid for the White House. Three of the five individuals who received these promotions did not even have bachelor's degrees on their resumes.
This has been part of a larger trend within Carson's Housing and Urban Development administration. At least 24 people in the government agency were hired to high-paying and influential positions despite lacking housing policy experience, comprising roughly one-third of the 70 HUD employees that rank at the highest levels of the federal government. Notable is the fact that Carson himself also lacks housing policy experience; he is instead a neurosurgeon with no actual relevant policy knowledge of housing and urban issues.
Despite his lack of housing policy experience, Carson has not shied away from radically overhauling the agency's mission. In March, for example, Carson revised the agency's mission statement to remove as part of its mission the need to fight discrimination in housing. The original statement was clear about the importance of diversity, reading that "HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business."
The new statement, by contrast, merely reads "HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation."
Carson has also come under fire for the lavish spending on office furnishings for the agency. These include spending $31,561 on an order for tables and chairs for the department's offices. Although a spokesman initially defended Carson and his wife by claiming that "Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased," Carson later admitted that he "briefly looked at catalogs for dining furniture and was shocked by the cost of the furniture. My wife also looked at catalogs and wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decour [sic]."