It’s been nearly one year since Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Alphonso Jackson made a public spectacle of his desire to prevent opponents of President George W. Bush from getting HUD contracts.
For some time, it appeared that he would get away with such a blatant admission of political favoritism, but now there’s a chance he may not—if you join me in demanding a Congressional investigation.
In September, HUD Inspector General (IG) Kenneth M. Donohue issued the findings of his investigation into political manipulation of the department’s contracting process, including Jackson’s public statement in Dallas on April 28, 2006, that a would-be HUD contractor should have been prevented from getting a contract because he spoke badly of President Bush to Jackson.
The IG report documents a number of cases where Jackson may have exerted political influence over the contracting process; it quotes staffers saying Jackson had spoken to staff about his desire to consider the political affiliations of contractors; and finally, it raises new doubts about Jackson’s credibility.
Yet, despite those findings, there has been no further action. According to the HUD office of public affairs, the case is closed.
I think the report raises questions that demand further investigation, and I am calling on Congress to hold hearings on HUD’s contracting process and Jackson’s role in it.
Although Jackson retracted his statement about how he treated the contractor in the story he told in Dallas, he does not disavow his motivation for telling it. He dislikes critics of President Bush, and he does not want HUD to empower them by putting money in their pockets.
You might think Jackson would have backed away from that sentiment in talking to the IG. Instead, he told the IG that he would refuse to help anyone who criticized the president and that he is biased in that regard.
The only question is to what extent Jackson has actually acted on that self-proclaimed predisposition. The IG report quotes HUD staffers who are on both sides of that question: Some say he did act on it, while others—mostly political appointees—say he did not and call his accusers liars.
That’s certainly not conclusive, but it raises enough red flags to merit further investigation. With HUD contract volume expected to be well more than $1 billion in fiscal 2007, questions about how HUD contracts are awarded must not be glossed over.
We need to make sure that HUD contracts are furthering the agency’s mission and not becoming a “slush fund” for political rewards. It’s urgent that we ask hard questions, not just because of the ethical issues but for very pragmatic reasons: After all, does anyone out there think HUD is becoming more effective or more responsive as it spends more and more on contractors?
The HUD IG’s report must not be allowed to pass as the last word on this controversy. Any objective investigator would have concluded from the same information that further investigation was necessary to get to the bottom of conflicting statements. But the IG reported to the least objective official one could possibly imagine: Jackson’s subordinate, Roy A. Bernardi, deputy secretary of HUD.
Don’t let HUD’s contracting practices go unchallenged. Join me in calling for an independent investigation by writing to House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.); House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.); and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Watch for further coverage of this subject in a future issue. If you have information or comments, write to me at "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">ashashaty@hanley wood.com.Nothing you say will be attributed to you in print without your authorization.