GAO: HUD Programs Don’t Provide Adequate Staff Guidance for Making DEC Referrals
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report that examined the processes for referring cases of potential noncompliance to HUD’s Departmental Enforcement Center (DEC). The GAO looked at three HUD program offices—the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs, Public and Indian Housing (PIH), and Community Planning and Development (CPD)—and concluded that PIH and CPD don’t provide their field staff with specific guidance on when to make referrals to DEC. In contrast, the GAO concluded that Multifamily does make referrals based on defined thresholds for noncompliance, such as sites that don’t pass physical inspections.
The DEC’s mission is to provide independent oversight of the administration of HUD programs. According to HUD, the DEC’s primary goal is to bring owners to full compliance so that the quality of HUD-assisted housing isn’t compromised. The GAO reports that PIH and CPD have broad guidelines but not specific thresholds for when field staff should refer an entity to the DEC. PIH and CPD field staff use their discretion in deciding which cases to refer to the DEC, but these decisions don’t appear to always be based on well-supported risk assessments. Without specific guidance to help field staff direct their decision making, the DEC, PIH, and CPD can’t ensure that referrals are made using a consistent and risk-based approach, limiting the DEC’s effectiveness at providing independent oversight.
PIH guidance is in the form of periodic emails sent to field offices requesting potential candidates for referrals to the DEC. Those emails list factors that might warrant referrals, like potential violations of statutes, regulations, or agreements. PIH doesn’t provide direction to field offices on how to use the results of their quarterly risk assessments to identify high-risk PHAs for referral to the DEC. PIH officials stated that they didn’t want to be too prescriptive.
The GAO suggested that PIH and CPD provide additional guidance that could include information on how the field offices should incorporate the results from their risk assessments, more detailed criteria on when the field offices should make a referral, and examples of potential noncompliance that could be referred.