Employee morale at the Department of Housing and Urban Development has fallen sharply under the leadership of Ben Carson, according to a new investigative report.
Alec MacGillis, a politics and government reporter for non-profit journalism organization ProPublica, told NPR that after a boost in enthusiasm under the Obama administration, HUD has seen a sense of aimlessness creep in under Carson — a retired neurosurgeon and former opponent of President Trump during the 2016 GOP primary process.
“It’s the sense that, my goodness, what does the Trump administration think of us as a department if they would put in charge of us someone who has zero experience in the field that we work in?” MacGillis said in an interview with NPR’s Ailsa Chang.
“That’s what a HUD employee said to me,” MacGillis continued. “It’s as if I had just walked out of this door one day and declared that I was going to become a nurse.”
Trump’s pick of Carson certainly raised eyebrows over the secretary’s lack of experience in public service and housing, and his tenure at the top spot has been marked with a variety of controversies. Carson himself asked for an independent investigation into his family’s actions with HUD; his son and wife have come under criticism for taking active roles at the department despite not officially having jobs or titles.
And that was before the infamous $31,000 dining-room set flap in recent works. Carson was forced to cancel the pricey order for his offices at HUD after a public backlash, though he denied knowledge of the table before it generated media attention.
This particular controversy was out of character for Carson, according to MacGillis, who pointed out that HUD has largely escaped the claims of extravagant spending that doomed former Department of Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price — and continue to dog Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt.
“Of all the problems I discovered at HUD in my reporting over the past year, the overspending by Ben Carson was not one of them,” MacGillis told NPR. “This is someone who is still taking commercial flights, sitting in the middle seat in coach — unlike a lot of the other cabinet secretaries who are flying around in private jets.”
HUD’s crisis is largely an existential one in MacGillis’s view, as the agency has shrunken considerably since its creation as a Great Society program.
“HUD has definitely struggled with morale over the years, largely I think because it’s just fallen such a long way from its grand ambitions of its founding back in the ‘60s,” he said.
Read the full interview at Wyoming Public Media.
Written by Alex Spanko