Replacement bill promotes IT, creates `new model' for gov't.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development would be transformed into a much smaller agency that is heavily dependent on information technology under the terms of legislation expected to be introduced this month.

The goal of the bill is to get the federal government out of the public housing business and instead provide funding directly to state and local governments, community groups and private firms.

The bill would retain at the federal level an agency to organ-ize and disseminate information collected from other agencies and to advise lower levels of government, communities and companies on policies affecting infrastructure in inner cities.

Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, said he believes the bill would create a "new model of information resource for the government." But it is expected to face opposition from liberal Democrats who are against any changes to HUD and from conservative Republicans who want to eliminate HUD altogether.

The bill would create a new entity, which would replace HUD, called the Department of Communities (DOC). One of the primary components of the new department would be the Community and Housing Information Project (CHIP), an office that would report directly to the secretary of DOC. It would be given wide authority to work with other information resources management shops governmentwide.

Outside Access Comes First

CHIP's major responsibility would be to make HUD's database more accessible to outside entities, organizing it and making it more presentable and usable for government agencies and the private sector.

"This is more than just networking," a House staff member said. "It's rethinking how and what kind of information the government collects."

This new central information resource would be the first step in what Lazio called a "new model of federal assistance," which shifts responsibility to lower levels of government and the private sector.

Lazio foresees much of the management of HUD's 244 programs being handed over to state and local governments and to the private sector. To do that, CHIP would make HUD's databases available to the public and other agencies.

For example, developers could tap into HUD's database on multiple-family housing, one of the largest depositories of information on apartments in the nation, to obtain marketing information that could be used to build low-cost housing.

In addition, CHIP would tie together HUD's disparate databases so that other agencies—such as the departments of Transportation, Education and Labor—could use the housing and mortgage information to coordinate transportation, education and labor policies with housing policies.

Information on these programs would be made available on the Internet to corporations and citizens who could get involved in a particular neighborhood. CHIP also would encourage what Lazio called "electronic community development," which would include programs to place different technologies in public housing.

CHIP would require a multimillion-dollar investment, which possibly would include the purchase of new equipment.

Shifting responsibility of programs to state and local governments will allow Congress to substantially cut HUD's budget, which was $25 billion in fiscal 1995. The subcommittee has yet to calculate how much could be cut, however.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee plans to consider similar legislation later next year, but no bill has been drafted.

CHIP "has a lot of real potential," said Don Demitros, who was director of the Office of Information Policies and Systems at HUD before being named last month as the head of IRM at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But Demitros added that much of what CHIP is trying to do is already being accomplished without a significant restructuring of the department. HUD has made much of its data on specific neighborhoods available on the Internet and is geocoding some data for geographic information system analysis.

HUD officials could not be reached for comment.

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