HUD Clean, Says GAO, But Is It?

For the first time in 13 years, the Government Accounting Office has taken the Dept of Housing and Urban Development off their “high-risk” list. Corruption and mismanagement charges have been flying thick and fast for a decade, and if this report can be believed the clean-up at HUD should be cause for celebration.

For much of the 1980s, HUD was buffeted by allegations of corruption and influence-peddling that often masked systemic problems caused by poor financial management, inadequate record-keeping and staff shortages.

HUD worked through its problems, and, by 2001, had only two programs left on the GAO list — single-family-housing mortgage insurance and rental-housing assistance. The GAO said the department has significantly improved its oversight of lenders, appraisers and property management contractors and does a better job of estimating subsidy costs and defaults by borrowers.

But is it believable? If this were any administration other than Bush’s I wouldn’t hesitate to extend kudos where they were due, but it isn’t. Long years of lies and misdirection, misinformation and manipulation, have made me properly suspicious. Coming from the BA, this just doesn’t make sense.

Bush hates HUD, not because it had a bad reputation for ten years but because he doesn’t believe govt should be involved in the housing market, period. In every other govt dept he has installed movement conservatives with orders to either dismantle it or make it otherwise inoperable. Funding to those depts has been cut, sometimes drastically, every year for the past 6, and so has staff. There are fewer inspectors, fewer resources, less of everything in every watchdog agency in the federal pantheon.

Only this week, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta sent a memo to Washington complaining that CDC Director Julie Gerberding was stripping it of both manpower and money.

Problems cited by employees include “dilution of our scientific capacities,” a critical lack of resources, systems that don’t work well and issues of leadership effectiveness, according a memo written last month by Lonnie King, director of CDC’s newly created National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases.

***

It comes a year after five former CDC directors sent a rare joint letter to current CDC Director Julie Gerberding, raising concerns that turmoil in the agency — including an exodus of key staff and poor employee morale — was putting the CDC’s scientific mission at risk.

“I think it’s evidence that this is more than a morale problem and clearly a situation that now is affecting the proper functioning of the agency,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, a Washington-based watchdog group that evaluates whether state and federal health agencies are prepared for emergencies.

Gerberding’s response was that some “old-guard employees…have difficulty with change.” Well, I should think they might if they were watching a Bush hack destroy one of the most critically important health agencies in the country.

As if that weren’t enough, the very next day the Food and Drug Administration had a similar surprise for consumers concerned about the safety of what they put in their bodies.

The Food and Drug Administration should suspend plans to close as many as nine of 13 laboratories that test the safety and effectiveness of food, drugs, cosmetics and medical equipment, a bipartisan group of senators said this week.

The network of labs, run by the agency’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, “could prove particularly vital in rapidly responding to public health crises” during national emergencies, the lawmakers wrote Tuesday to FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach.

“We recognize that FDA faces serious budget constraints that force difficult choices, but it is far from clear that consolidating ORA labs is a reasonable response to these difficult constraints,” they wrote.

Then there’s the meat industry. Jim Hightower reports on his website that Wal-Mart, Tyson, and other meat industry heavy-weights have been gassing their meat with carbon-monoxide to make it look as if it’s fresh when in fact it might be many weeks old. Laura Tarantino, the head of the FDA’s Food Additive Safety Division thinks that’s not a problem.

If we had evidence that consumers might be misled by the color alteration, we’d be concerned.

In fact, says Hightower, Tarantino was given three separate studies that showed exactly that, and promptly ignored them in order to approve the gassing.

This sort of crap has been going on for 6 years under a Republican Congress that bluntly refused its oversight role, and against this background one is forced to ask: “So why is HUD different?” Maybe it isn’t.

There is a single sentence in the WaPo story that may very well explain the whole thing. Here it is:

Walker noted that HUD had cut the amount of improper rent subsidies by 58 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Fifty-eight per cent of the rent subsidies HUD was paying out were improper? Fifty-eight per cent?!!

You know, this sounds like one of the old tricks that conservatives have been using for 40 years to kill programs they don’t like: a) they justify the elimination of the funding by using “means testing” to make huge chunks of the people the program was designed to help ineligible for it, then they claim that the numbers are so low there’s no need for the program at all; or b) they accuse the program of waste and fraud, assign a conservative “manager” with orders to “clean things up” and he does so by simply removing clients from the roll and pretending they “didn’t deserve” to be on it. In both cases there is only one goal and it has nothing to do with the agency carrying out its mission: cut the damn money off and we don’t care how you do it.

That number – the kind conservatives really like: outrageous and even unbelievable – just isn’t credible even if the old HUD was as bad as they say. I mean, two-thirds? Come on. And this kind of behavior from HUD in the recent past would lend support to doubts that this is anything other than a PR stunt. Either the wool has been firmly pulled over the GAO’s eyes, or else they’ve been co-opted by Bush as well and are willing participants in yet another phony claim.

Sorry, HUD. No awards for you. Odds are that – once again – we’re being scammed.

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