New Lawsuit: How Much are Cabinet Officials Spending on Office Upgrades

Washington, DC – Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight today filed a broad, multi-agency lawsuit to find out how much taxpayer money senior Trump administration officials – including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – have spent to upgrade their personal offices.

The new suit comes after two separate American Oversight lawsuits exposed Secretary Ben Carson’s involvement in the attempted purchase of a $31,000 dining set for his office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the $43,000 price tag for Administrator Scott Pruitt’s soundproof phone booth at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Trump cabinet officials have a track record of unnecessary, extravagant expenditures at taxpayer expense, most recently with Ben Carson’s attempt to buy a $31,000 dining set and Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 phone booth,” said Melanie Sloan, Senior Advisor at American Oversight. “Combined with all the first class travel that’s also been revealed, it seems it’s not only the president who has a penchant for luxury. Taxpayers have a right to know if they’re footing the bills for opulent vanity items.”

Prior to the documents released by American Oversight’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and subsequent lawsuits, Carson claimed to have no personal involvement in selecting the dining set, and Pruitt’s phone booth was reported to cost $25,000.

Last November, American Oversight sent identical FOIA requests to 23 agencies, seeking records related to expenditures and projected expenditures for office redecorations of senior officials, as well as emails and other communications related to those renovations. American Oversight already sued some of the agencies that failed to respond to our FOIA requests, resulting in the release of documents that shed light on exorbitant spending within the administration.

HUD responded to American Oversight’s lawsuit with more than 150 pages of receipts and emails detailing internal deliberations over redecorating Carson’s office and suite. Most revealing, the documents show the personal involvement of Secretary Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, in selecting the dining set. An email sent from a HUD staffer to Carson’s assistant references “printouts of the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.” The chain of emails, dealing with scheduling orders and choosing furniture designs, was sent between a HUD staffer and Carson’s chief of staff and executive assistant—contradicting the secretary’s earlier claim that he played no role in selecting the expensive furniture.

American Oversight’s suit against the EPA also exposed extravagant spending in Scott Pruitt’s office. Pruitt’s $25,000 soundproof phone booth—an already questionable expense—was reported last September, but new documents released to American Oversight show that the cost to install the phone booth was actually much higher. Contractors were hired to create space for the booth—which included removing existing equipment, pouring concrete, installing a ceiling, and prepping and painting walls—and the EPA paid the firms more than $18,000 for their services, bringing the total cost of the booth to $43,000.

American Oversight’s new lawsuit targets the numerous departments that failed to respond to our FOIA requests, including:

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Energy
  • General Services Administration
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • Office of Management and Budget
  • Department of State

See the full complaint below: