HUD sets rules for use of new software

The Department of Housing and Urban Development this year will require state and local governments to use a mapping software to apply for the $7.5 billion HUD doles out every year to support housing and community development programs.

The software, called the Consolidated Planning System (CPS), is the foundation on which HUD has built its effort to meet the National Performance Review goals of streamlining operations and improving service to lower-level governments and the public.

"We didn't develop the technology just because we could do it," said Andrew Cuomo, assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development, who unveiled CPS last month to a group of reporters. "The technology is a manifestation of our reinvention process."

CPS consolidates into one electronic item the paper reports that lower governmental levels, called grantees, have used to apply for federal funds under HUD's 12 key programs. The paper reports averaged about 1,000 pages each.

The system, which HUD spent three years and $300,000 developing, is an early hit among lower governmental units that work with HUD.

Last year HUD gave CPS free to grantees and asked them to voluntarily use it.

Although some grantees had to purchase Microsoft Corp.'s Windows to run CPS, about 70 percent of the 1,000 governmental units used at least part of the system.

CPS is a "fantastic planning tool," said Cameron Whitman, senior legislative counsel at the National League of Cities. "It really has made things easier."

But Whitman added that the mapping software is more of a strategic planning tool and does not necessarily improve HUD's service. Instead, she said, HUD would do better by providing more timely information about HUD program budgets and policies over the Internet.

Mapping Needs

HUD worked with MapInfo Corp, Troy, N.Y., to develop CPS, which is based on MapInfo 3.0.

CPS consists mainly of several county or city maps, on which grantees indicate the location of existing or proposed programs, including public and affordable housing, homeless shelters, community development block grant programs and special needs programs, such as those for AIDS victims. Schools, museums and hospitals also are mapped.

Included in CPS are 150 census tract data elements, including income levels, unemployment and race. This data is layered on top of the HUD program map to show the relationship of HUD programs to county or city poor areas. Text explaining the need for the programs also is included.

Because the maps are easier to read, HUD officials estimate hundreds of thousands of work hours will be saved at the federal, state and local governmental levels, making possible reductions in staff.

"Instead of telling us what you want to do, we're asking grantees to show us what you want to do," Cuomo said. "The maps are just a much more effective way of communicating."

HUD's long-term goal for CPS is to link the system with the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Transportation to include social and job-training programs and highway building projects so that all federal programs could be better coordinated.

HUD also hopes CPS will entice more private groups and businesses to become involved in community development and plans to sell CPS for $125 to nonprofit, church and planning groups, academic institutions and builders.

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