Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Center for American Progress Doing What Works Conference

Washington Court Hotel
Washington, DC
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thank you, Nancy -- for that introduction. I also want to thank my good friends, John Podesta and Sarah Rosen Wartell for holding this conference. And of course, all my fellow panelists and colleagues in the Administration -- Secretary Locke, Deputy Secretary Miller and Deputy Secretary Corr.

I'll be brief because I know we want to get to the panel. But we meet at a remarkable moment. And while our agencies all face different challenges, we all share one challenge in common:

How to do more with less. How to provide more responsive, more effective services to families in a very difficult budget environment.

As some of you may know, HUD recently completed a year-long strategic planning process. Crafted with the input of more than 1,500 HUD employees and partners, it was designed to bring HUD into the 21st century by adapting to three fundamental changes in the world of housing and community development--the emergence of: New Partners from the private and third sectors of non-profits and foundations; A New Geography in which cities and suburbs work together to share problems and solutions at the regional level; and A New Business Model for government agencies like HUD--brought about by advances in technology and the ability to use data to not only measure results, but actually craft policy.

And so I'd like to touch on three different examples in which this planning process is helping us change the way we do business at HUD.

The first is operational. When I arrived in Washington 18 months ago, it took HUD 139 days on average to go from putting a job announcement out to actually hiring someone.

You can imagine how, in the midst of a housing crisis, taking four-and-half months to hire new staff could be a bit of a problem. Even if you found the right person for the job, there was no guarantee that they'd still be in the market for a job by the time you could bring them on.

So, with our internal Transformation Initiative and by working closely with OPM and John Berry, HUD has: Reduced the number of steps a hiring manager has to take to both begin the hiring process and finalize selections; Provided workshops to managers to help them understand their role in the hiring process; and Improved the accountability of everyone's role up and down the hiring chain.

We're now down to an average of 79 days having cut the hiring process by more than eight weeks -- and we're not done yet. We're also delegating more authority to the field, improving performance management and accountability and simplifying rules and regulations.

Which brings me to the second way we've proposed to maximize the use of HUD resources: through programmatic reforms such as our Transforming Rental Assistance initiative.

Probably the most important thing HUD does is help 4.5 million households pay the rent -- a third of whom include an elderly or disabled family member.

But honestly, you couldn't dream up a more complicated, inefficient system for fulfilling that responsibility than the one HUD uses today.

Right now, HUD has 13 different rental assistance programs each with its own rules, administered by three operating divisions that contract with more than 20,000 separate entities.

This proliferation of programs and delivery systems doesn't make housing more accessible -- but less, because it means families have to fill out dozens of applications processed by scores of administrators just to have a decent chance of receiving assistance.

At the same time these programs suffer from terrible inefficiency, they also face soaring costs, with our public housing program alone staring at a $20-to-$30 billion backlog of capital needs.

And so, through TRA, we're proposing to tear down the barriers to financing public housing at the same time we simplify and streamline these programs so that they are governed by a single, integrated, coherent set of rules.

Now, to be clear: we are asking for increased funding for TRA. But it pales in comparison to the estimated $25 billion we believe TRA will allow public housing authorities to leverage from the private sector to meet that capital-needs backlog.

Not only will these changes break down the kinds of administrative hurdles that have traditionally left families with so few choices -- as I experienced in New York City, they will also bring a broader set of stakeholders to the table that link affordable housing investments more closely to neighborhood schools, local businesses and other community anchors.

Indeed, leveraging HUD investments in this way with those from other partners is the third way we're trying to improve performance -- by forging interagency partnerships.

For instance, building off of the remarkable progress we've had reducing chronic homelessness by a third inside of five years, HUD is collaborating with HHS, connecting housing vouchers with health and social services to help 4,000 people move off the streets and out of shelters.

Our Choice Neighborhoods demonstration builds off of data that has shown us that the link between successful housing and good schools is not just theory -- it's practice. And by connecting this housing transformation effort with the Department of Education's Promise Neighborhoods program modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone, we intend to bring that practice to scale in neighborhoods across the country.

And in our Sustainability Partnership with the Department of Transportation and the EPA, you can see that we are not only talking to one another -- we are making funding decisions together.

In a city like Detroit, you can clearly see the benefits of jointly reviewing grant applications. There, DOT when proposed making a streetcar investment, HUD highlighted community development activities planned or underway while the EPA identified Brownfields sites that can be recycled for affordable housing development.

When it comes to housing, environmental and transportation policy, the Federal government must speak with one voice.

These are just a few of the ways HUD is working to get the most out of a limited pool of federal dollars at a time when the need for them is so great.

I'm sure my colleagues have similar examples. But fundamentally, we're all focused on the same thing: How the Federal government can invest precious taxpayer dollars not just in programs and policies, but the people and places who rely on them.

With the new tools we have--and a President committed to using them--I believe by "doing what works" today--we can lay the groundwork for generations to come. Thank you.


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