President George W. Bush may still stand behind Alphonso Jackson, but nearly half of the readers polled by this magazine think he should be fired as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Of the 141 respondents to a survey conducted by AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE magazine in late May and early June, 49 percent said Jackson should be fired, 14 percent said he should not, and 36 percent said they did not know.
The online poll uncovered a deep vein of anger and disappointment about HUD’s operations. While many laid the blame for HUD’s problems on Jackson, others said it had as much or more to do with career employees.
“The biggest problem with HUD has nothing to do with political appointees, including the secretary,” said one respondent. “It has everything to do with being an entrenched bureaucracy filled with incompetent, bitter, and uncaring people who are soaking the taxpayers with their salaries. In my opinion, HUD is the worst federal agency to ever exist and should be disbanded.” The survey was anonymous in order to allow HUD users to reply without fear of retaliation.
The survey was conducted about two weeks after the question of Jackson’s fitness for office was raised in the national press because he publicly stated that he believed a would-be HUD contractor who did not support President Bush should be denied a contract.
To gauge reactions to the scandal from users of HUD programs and HUD contractors, AHF posted an online survey and invited its readers, plus the members of the national Leased Housing Association, to respond (see box below).
Although Jackson’s comments provoked outrage at the idea of political motivations affecting HUD decisions, only 17 percent of respondents said they had actually lost funding or contracts for what they believed were political reasons. Seventy-seven percent said they had not.
But that may be simply because the respondents are afraid to publicly state their views for fear of retaliation, the survey found. Half of those who responded to the survey said they have avoided publicly criticizing HUD officials out of fear that it would hurt their ability to do business with the agency. Thirty percent said they have avoided publicly supporting political opponents of the Bush administration out of fear that it would hurt their business with HUD.
Seventy percent said that former HUD officials who now lobby the department have influence over HUD’s decisions about who gets assistance and contracts.
Asked to rank the work of the department on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being excellent and 5 being poor, 20 percent rated the agency’s performance as poor and only 7 percent graded it excellent.
Asked to rank Jackson’s performance, 44 percent said it was poor. Only 6 percent ranked his work as excellent.
About 36 percent said the agency operates much less efficiently under the current administration. Twenty-six percent said it operates somewhat less efficiently under the current administration than under the Clinton administration. On the positive side, about 15 percent said HUD was more efficient now than under Clinton.
There were 91 replies to the question about what was Jackson’s most outstanding accomplishment at HUD. Only 10 respondents cited something positive, such as increasing home ownership, increasing funding to serve the chronically homeless, hiring a good person to handle fair housing, and improving consistency in processing FHA apartment loans nationwide. Three respondents praised Jackson for assigning HUD staff to work on housing after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last fall.
The other 81 responses to the question about Jackson’s achievement were extremely negative. “His leadership has been a disaster for HUD and for its mission of providing affordable housing,” said one respondent.
Another respondent said, “My biggest beef with Jackson is that he is an invisible leader within HUD, and this shows in that agency’s administrative drift. In the 35 years I have been working with HUD, I have rarely seen it so administratively demoralized, slow to roll out new initiatives and resolve management issues, and so detached from its constituents.”
The survey did not ask if political influence over decisionmaking was better or worse than under Clinton. But a few respondents made it clear that politics has always been a factor at HUD:
“The current administration values loyalty above all else. The concern (of HUD clients) is that any attempt to address problems or provide constructive criticism would be met with an act of retaliation. The department has never operated particularly well. Of those I have dealt with, [Henry] Cisneros seemed to have the best administration. [Andrew] Cuomo was a nightmare, and I say that as a die-hard Democrat.”