Citing a need to prioritize “the efficient use of taxpayer resources,” President Trump proposed earlier this year a 25 percent cut to the State Department budget. But that didn’t stop the department from following through on a plan to spend $52,701 to equip United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s penthouse with custom mechanical window curtains.
The expenditure, first reported by the New York Times, includes $29,900 for the curtains themselves and $22,801 for the motors and hardware that allows them to be opened and closed automatically.
The U.S. government pays for gigantic New York City apartments for both the UN ambassador and their deputy to live in; current ambassador Nikki Haley is the first person to occupy the 6,000-square foot full-floor penthouse in a new building listed at $58,000 a month when the government leased it. They serve as both residences and spaces for entertaining diplomatic guests.
A spokesman for Haley insisted that the plans to buy the curtains were made in 2016 during the Obama administration and that Haley herself had no say in the purchase. But the purchase and installation did occur last year, after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had already frozen hiring and pushed out many senior diplomats.
Brett Bruen, who served in the White House under President Obama, scoffed at the disconnect. “How can you, on the one hand, tell diplomats that basic needs cannot be met and, on the other hand, spend more than $50,000 on a customized curtain system for the ambassador to the U.N.?” he told the New York Times.
But Patrick F. Kennedy, who served as Under Secretary of State for Management, defended the purchase as being a worthwhile investment for both security and entertaining purposes. “All she’s got is a part-time maid, and the ability to open and close the curtains quickly is important,” he explained.
The curtains are only the latest garish purchase using taxpayer money to mark the Trump administration while officials were simultaneously cutting budgets for programs that serve the American people. HUD Secretary Ben Carson spent $31,000 on a dining room set while slashing affordable housing programs (and lied about whether he and his wife picked out the furniture themselves). Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent $139,000 on a door while cutting the department’s budget and trying to lay off 4,000 people. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spent $800,000 over a seven-month period to travel on military aircraft, including a round-trip to New York that cost $15,000.
CLARIFICATION: Following updates to the New York Times’ story, this story has also been updated with a different photo and a few clearer sentences to avoid giving the impression this purchase was within Nikki Haley’s control.