The State Department spent $52,701 in 2017 to purchase custom, mechanized curtains for the windows in the UN Ambassador’s New York City apartment during budget cuts and a hiring freeze.
According to a New York Times report, Nikki Haley, 46, is the first ambassador to live in the residence, as all previous ambassadors resided in the Waldorf Astoria. The U.S. government is currently leasing the First Avenue apartment, a decision made by the State Department in 2016.
A spokesperson for Haley told the outlet that plans to buy the curtains were hatched by the Obama administration in 2016, and the ambassador didn’t have any part in it.
The Times later updated their story with an editor’s note, stating that an earlier version of the article and headline “created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question.
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The actual curtains cost $29,900 and the automatic technology and installation, which took place between March to August of this year — when Haley was actually ambassador — cost $22,801, according to the online contracts reported by the Times.
During the same timeframe, hiring in the State Department was frozen and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had proposed reducing the budget by 31 percent, the Times reported. In addition, jobs and projects in U.S. embassies around the world were being cut.
“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.?” Brett Bruen, a White House official in the Obama administration, told the Times.
Another Obama official, Patrick Kennedy, who ran State Department operations, however, stood by the decision. “All she’s got is a part-time maid, and the ability to open and close the curtains quickly is important,” Kennedy said to the outlet, adding that the curtains and mechanism would be used for years. He also noted their security purposes, in addition to entertaining.
Haley’s deputy also has a residence provided by the government. It’s where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s dinner with Kim Yong-chol, North Korea’s top nuclear weapons negotiator, took place in May, according to the Times.
Reports of this purchase come on the heels of another seemingly over-the-top government spending decision, the alleged $31,000 furniture in Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s office. The story broke in February because an official in the department claimed she was demoted after failing to “find money” beyond a $5,000 cap to redecorate the dining room to prepare for Carson’s tenure.