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Gary Johnson: A $31,561 Dining Set? What Are They Thinking?

It must be a really nice dining set.

We read this week that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has ordered a $31,561 dining set for the “Secretary’s Dining Room”.  Let’s take that apart: Why does the Secretary of HUD need a $31,561 dining set for his dining room? Or, to go a step further, why does the HUD Secretary need a dining room? Don’t they have a cafeteria?

And of course there is the even more basic question of why we have a Department of Housing and Urban Development in the first place. But that’s a different conversation.

I frequently observe that good government is easy — an observation that sometimes raises eyebrows. After all, if it was easy, why aren’t we be better at it?

A $31,561 dining set speaks volumes about government waste

It begins with common sense. It’s unclear from news reports whether HUD Secretary Ben Carson was personally involved in ordering what must be a very nice dining set. But that’s no excuse. He’s the boss, and he certainly knows about it now — but isn’t cancelling the order.

Americans’ confidence in their government is at historic lows, and this little episode says it all. Does $31k really matter in a budget measured in the trillions? Statistically, not much.
What DOES matter is the mindset — the callousness of a Cabinet Secretary who can spend an amount of taxpayers’ money on a dining table that exceeds the annual income of many of the people he is supposed to be serving.

A few months ago, it was discovered that then-Secretary of HHS Tom Price had flown in a chartered jet from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia for a meeting. That’s right. We taxpayers paid $25,000 for what would have been a 2-hour, $200 train ride for any normal person.

Granted, that trip and others like it ended up with Price’s resignation — but only because he got caught.

We have seen too many similar examples. Even the EPA Administrator spent $14,434 in ONE DAY for chartered planes to get around his own home state of Oklahoma. The EPA Administrator??  What could possibly be so urgent and critical to the national interest that he needs to spend $14k to get across Oklahoma?

Oh yes, when pressed, these really important people tell us there are “security” concerns…or tight schedules that preclude dealing with commercial travel — or just getting in a car. Come on. If it’s that big a problem, just don’t go. Have a conference call. That’s what the rest of us do.

There is no excuse 

With all due respect, I would suggest that anyone who would board a chartered jet, paid for by the taxpayers, to get from DC to Philly isn’t smart enough to be a Cabinet Secretary in the first place.

I understand that those who are appointed to high level positions in government are likely to be successful people who are accustomed to nice things. That’s OK. What’s NOT OK is that too often their power and responsibility translate into levels of arrogance that are mind-boggling.

I was a Governor. I understand the security needs, and I understand busy schedules. But I also can personally attest that private dining rooms, chartered jets, and designer furniture are in no way necessary for doing what these people are supposed to be doing — on our tab.

Good government IS easy, if only a little common sense is applied, and if those “in power” don’t forget that the money they are spending came out of somebody’s hard-earned paycheck…or in these times of trillion dollar deficits, borrowed on the backs of our kids.

They can start small. Eat in the cafeteria. Take a train. Stand in line at the airport. Doing so would go a long way toward earning the respect of those of us who are signing their checks.

(Photo of Ben Carson speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona by Gage Skidmore)


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