Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What to make of the personnel changes at HUD

What we're building
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference



You may have seen some recent announcements of new appointments at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), names you might recognize moving to new jobs with titles you don’t entirely recognize.  The changes are part of the normal end-of-an-administration turnover, but they also reflect political constraints and changes within the agency itself. It remains an open question whether the new roles will empower policy action or create new logjams.

Among the recent and coming changes are:

  • Biniam Gebre, formerly acting FHA Commissioner, moved to become Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti.
  • Ed Golding, previously Senior Advisor on Housing Finance to the Secretary, will become Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing, which includes the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
  • Harriet Tregoning, previously head of the Office of Economic Resilience, will be appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.
  • Laura Hogshead, formerly Deputy Chief of Staff for Budget and Policy, became Chief Operations Officer reporting to the Deputy Secretary.

All of these are talented, committed public servants who are filling much-needed roles in the agency. As we near the end of President Obama’s second term, it is natural for staff to consider leaving as they think beyond 2016. Expect more openings to come in the next year and a half, and expect those to be steadily harder to fill as the time left gets shorter.

Why the new title of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS)? HUD’s org chart already had its share of jawbreakers for title, after all.  Other agencies have used the title in the past but it is new to HUD. The key distinction is that a Principal DAS does not require Senate confirmation. Given the long delays in confirmations already and now a Senate no longer controlled by the same party as the president, avoiding the confirmation process could put staff to work faster.

Changing the org chart could also create logjams, however. A Principal DAS doesn’t have all the powers of a DAS, so the Deputy Secretary will have to sign off on some decisions, such as the release of formal notice and comment documents. If there are too many demands at one point in the chain, it can be hard for anything to get through. For staff changing jobs within the agency without a successor coming in behind them, there may be a period of having, in effect, two jobs at once—not a position I would wish on anyone.

From my and Chris’ conversations with HUD staff, we get a strong sense that they are working hard to move policy forward efficiently while managing transitions and possibly along the way finding some long-lasting improvements to HUD’s organization. Personnel changes are only some of the many challenges to come. The best way to judge results will be the policy action and program implementation we see, which ultimately mean homes created, communities strengthened and people helped.


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