Congress hits HUD on IT spending

In a rare public rebuke, Congress recently criticized the Department of

Housing and Urban Development for poor personnel management practices and

for siphoning money from its information technology budget to cover unrelated

expenses.

HUD can't accurately portray how much it needs for salaries and expenses,

and it has never produced an accurate hiring plan, according to Congress.

Because of this, HUD repeatedly "raided" its IT budget to pay for salaries

and other personnel expenses, lawmakers said in the conference report accompanying

the agency's 2001 appropriation bill. This practice, they said, "significantly

delayed HUD's entry to the Information Age."

Lawmakers limited HUD to $758 million next year for salaries and expenses

and gave HUD a May 15, 2001, deadline to come up with a multiyear budget

plan for its IT systems and a plan for staff resources. It also restricted

how many new managers it could hire from outside the agency.

Congress also put up an invisible fence around IT spending and ordered

the housing agency to spend at least $100 million in fiscal 2001 strictly

on IT projects. The conferees said they hope HUD will use the IT tools "in

a constructive manner" to deal with its serious management issues.

This is the first time Congress has instructed the housing agency on

how to spend its IT money, but the timing is urgent. "Their information

technology office has been a disaster," said one congressional source.

A source on the House Appropriations subcommittee that handled the HUD

budget said that it was impossible to tell just where the housing agency

was spending its money. "Every year, they ask for significant amounts of

money to get their systems up to date, and yet year in and year out, they

make poor decisions about information technology," the source said.

HUD declined to respond to the congressional charges. HUD's chief information

officer, Gloria Parker, declined to comment on the report. Susan Gaffney,

HUD's inspector general, said no one had asked her to look into the allegations,

but she declined to comment further.

In response to repeated requests, HUD spokeswoman Veda Lamar issued

a statement saying, "We believe the committee drew the wrong conclusion

from the facts it cites."

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