HUD Workers Take Job Complaints to Vice President
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Government workers who run federal housing programs gave Vice President Al Gore an earful about what it’s like to work in the trenches of a troubled bureaucracy.
Employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development complained Friday about paranoid bosses, complicated rules and an exasperated public that expects decisions they don’t have the power to make.
Gore, head of the Clinton administration’s task force on efficiency, visited HUD as part of his six-month review of all federal agencies.
With a wall-length mural of a silhouetted urban skyline as a backdrop, Gore told a roomful of clerks, lawyers, consultants and administrators to focus on serving the public.
″We have customers: the American people,″ he said. ″We are going to make the federal government more customer-friendly.″
Gore said he wanted a few HUD workers to spend work with his task force, helping to pinpoint inefficiency.
HUD is beginning what the administration says will be an overhaul to overcome mismanagement and an influence-peddling scandal dating to the Reagan administration.
Clinton administration officials have said that at least $1 trillion in HUD programs are subject to widespread waste and abuse, despite extensive reforms by former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp.
″Too often, mayors have told me that HUD has been over the last few years at best irrelevant,″ said HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. ″Ask somebody on the street what HUD means, they’re likely to say, ‘bureaucracy.’ If we can come together to solve problems and set directions, I think we’ve got a shot at doing something with this department.″
The workers told Gore that HUD rules and managers squelch creativity. Bob Kenison, a HUD lawyer, said front-line employees often cannot use their best judgment in applying the regulations.
He cited one rule ″designed to ensure that people admitted to assisted housing are ... those who are involuntarily displaced, exceedingly poor or live in substandard housing.″
″Almost everybody who goes into these projects fits that description anyway. And we’ve got about 40 pages of regulations,″ he said.
There were nods all around when Gore asked whether HUD has too many rules and managers.
″Many of the employees have wonderful ideas about how to save money,″ said Barbara Davidson, a 15-year veteran who works in neighborhood self-help programs. ″But the way it works is it has to be approved by the supervisor, and the supervisor’s supervisor, and that supervisor’s supervisor before it ever gets to the ideas table,″ she said.
″Many of the supervisors feel threatened because they didn’t think of this idea. They feel it will make them look bad.″
″So they strangle the idea in the crib?″ Gore asked.
″And then they strangle the person who had the idea,″ Davidson replied.