Another member of President Donald Trump's cabinet has come under fire for the cost of his White House office upkeep. A report by the Associated Press released on Friday, March 9 details just how much Ryan Zinke's office spent on doors, and it's not a small number. The Interior Secretary's office reportedly spent $139,000 on construction costs for replacing the doors in his department, a few blocks from the White House.
"This project was requested by career facilities and security officials at Interior as part of the decade-long modernization of the historic FDR-era building," Interior spokesman Heather Swift said in a statement. "The secretary was not aware of this contract but agrees that this is a lot of money for demo, install, materials, and labor. Between regulations that require historic preservation and outdated government procurement rules, the costs for everything from pencils to printing to doors is astronomical. This is a perfect example of why the Secretary believes we need to reform procurement processes."
In a sum that adds up to more than most Americans see in a year of work, the reported number was listed on a government database, with a project completion date of November 2017, though Swift told AP the listed dates were not correct. The project reportedly entails two sets of doors to the outside of the building, and one set of interior doors, which have been in disrepair for years, allowing air and water in during bad weather. A 2007 project for the same office ran a tab of $227,000, AP reports. Elite Daily also reached out to the White House for comment but had not heard back at time of publication.
The report of Zinke's costly door project adds to a growing list of large-sum expenditures made on behalf of the Trump administration that have drawn the scrutiny of Capitol Hill and beyond.
The scrutiny over his office update is also not the first time the interior secretary has been the subject of expense-related probes.
In October, the interior department's inspector general launched an investigation into Zinke's travels in response to "numerous complaints," Politico reported. In December, AP reported that Zinke had spent more than $53,000 on helicopter trips in his first year on the job, one of which was to go horseback riding with Vice President Mike Pence. In subsequent Politico reports on the subject in the days following the AP report, the interior department cited time constraints in justifying Zinke's travel, and Zinke himself defended his use of the helicopters.
Zinke is one of several members of the Trump administration to come under fire for racking up big invoices. Earlier this month, The New York Times reports, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson attempted to cancel a $31,000 order for office furniture after receiving backlash for the purchase. A spokesperson for Carson told the Times that neither he nor his wife had any knowledge of the furniture order, though this claim was countered by accounts of other staffers.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September 2017 amid reports that he'd spent half a million in taxpayer dollars on private jets for business travel, after first trying to save face by offering to pay back some of the costs. In his resignation letter to Trump, Price wrote, "I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives."
Scott Pruitt, as AP points out, has also had to reexamine his air travel habits in response to reports that he'd been flying first class, one of many concerns about his big-ticket expenses while serving as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the Washington Post's February 2018 report on Pruitt's penchant for first-class travel, a spokeswoman said that by traveling, the secretary was "trying to further positive environmental outcomes and achieve tangible environmental results." A subsequent report by the Post found that the Pruitt has a special waiver — something his predecessors or colleagues don't — that allows him to fly first-class, though the details were not released.
While expenditures on furnishings and repairs aren't uncommon for the cabinet, this administration's budget has already toppled that of Trump's predecessor. A Mic report from June 2017 found that in the first five months of his tenure, Trump had already spent on White House furniture more than twice what Barack Obama had in the same timeframe.
And apparently, that number continued to go up. As of October 2017, per NBC, Trump had spent $1.75 million on furniture and redecorations, slightly higher than Obama's $1.5 million at the same point in his presidency. Among the big-ticket items: $240,000 for "wood office furniture manufacturing" and another $29,000 for "upholstered household furniture," though based on the report, it's not clear exactly for what building or purpose each of these expenses were made. At the time of the report, it was unknown whether Trump would be paying out of pocket for any of the White House's new furnishings.
It's not immediately clear who exactly pays for all these upgrades, in part because the expenses may be paid for by different entities depending on what they are.
According to the White House Historical Association, Congress allocates funding to make updates to the White House, including replacing worn out furniture. Incoming first families are given a $100,000 allowance to spend on redoing the Oval Office and their private residence (by administration, not term). And historically speaking, it's not uncommon for presidents and their wives to blow out the budget when redecorating. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have declined the allowance. Obama footed the bill himself.
Back in August, Trump got some blowback after a Sports Illustrated article reported that he'd referred to the White House as a "real dump." Trump denied making the comment on Twitter, saying that SI's report was "totally untrue." But apparently, the White House did actually need some fixing-up. As Trump left for a 17-day vacation at Mar-a-Lago in August 2017, a flurry of repairs commenced at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, to address everything from leaks to house fly infestations to HVAC systems.
As for who will end up footing the bill for Zinke's doors, that remains to be clarified.