President Obama, and many other others, have pointed out that those saying we can balance the budget solely by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” are taking a phony approach to fiscal discipline. However, that doesn’t mean that “waste, fraud and abuse” doesn’t exist — a fact proven by yesterday’s Washington Post piece on spending by HUD on community housing projects.
The Post story found that in recent years more than $400 million in HUD money has been spent on stalled or abandoned projects. In some cases, money was loaned and projects never got underway. Many of the people to whom money was given had no experience in construction or had questionable qualifications for getting the federal booty. The overall picture painted by the article suggests that our tax dollars were spent with little concern for how they would actually be used, and then with little attention to how they were actually being spent.
I recognize that $400 million is only a tiny drop in our colossal deficit bucket — but $400 million is still a lot of money in my book, and the Post article looks at only one program administered by one agency. What would we find if every federal program were subjected to similar scrutiny?
I’m not surprised by the waste found in the HUD housing efforts, nor am I surprised by the attitude reflected in the quotes from government officials who are involved in this poorly run program. One person who manages HUD money says we need to reduce the risk by enacting “basic standards” — which suggests that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent without even “basic standards” that apply. Could that possibly be true? The Post quotes another government official, Mercedes Marquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for community planning and development, says “We can do better and we will.” But why on Earth should we believe her? Isn’t it safe to assume that every HUD official since that agency was formed has said pretty much the same thing?
This is an example of where governments and businesses diverge. In any business, a division that failed to insist on basic accountability and frittered away $400 million would be shut down — period. Why shouldn’t we take the same approach with this badly administered program?