The Government Accountability Office this week reminded the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of some ways it could improve its operations.
Among the recommendations, the congressional watchdog said HUD needs to improve internet technology management and that Ginnie Mae, a guarantor for federally backed loans, needs to address “staffing-related challenges.”
Both points are reiterations of what the GAO previously flagged in 2014 and 2019, respectively. In the report, HUD said that it was making an effort to address the GAO’s recommendations.
Although some of the GAO’s recommendations have been outstanding for nearly a decade, HUD recently said in its strategic plan that it intends to close “outstanding audit findings, strengthen governance, and improve processes.”
It has a long list of recommendations to address before it can accomplish that. Among the most acute of challenges, from the GAO’s perspective, is the Department’s IT systems. GAO said in its report that HUD has “long experienced shortcomings in its IT management capability.”
The GAO complained that the department still hasn’t implemented an efficient way of tracking data on cost savings and efficiencies resulting from IT investments. Doing so would allow HUD to track whether IT investments are delivering expected benefits, the GAO argued.
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HUD has before had difficulties accurately reporting its cost savings, according to the GAO. In the past, the department reported governance-related cost savings that was “not always accurate, consistent, or substantiated,” the GAO said. Without having a mechanism to identify and track this information, HUD can’t effectively monitor outcomes of its activities, it said.
HUD has taken some steps toward addressing this issue. In February, HUD told the GAO it had plans to collect quarterly data on IT-related cost savings.
HUD also said that improving its information technology infrastructure is a “key objective” to strengthen its efficiency in its strategic plan for the next four years.
But despite the stated plans, the GAO said HUD has not yet produced any internal policies to accomplish the tracking of IT-related cost savings.
The GAO also said that Ginnie Mae, a corporation inside of HUD, relies heavily on contractors for many functions, yet does not analyze the cost of using contractors. The GAO said that analysis would help it decide whether to use in-house staff instead of contractors for certain functions.
In March, in response to GAO’s recommendation to get a handle on its contractor costs, Ginnie hired a contractor, the report said. The GAO said results of that contractor’s analysis are expected sometime this summer.
One of the reasons for Ginnie’s reliance on contractors is budgeting constraints. Ginnie Mae can use certain fee revenue to fund contractors but not its own in-house staff. Changing that would require approval from both HUD and Congress.
For now, GAO said Ginnie Mae is moving to adopt an alternative pay option and is working with HUD on a plan to implement it. This option would allow Ginnie to pay higher salaries for certain in-house positions.
The GAO also recommended HUD hash out an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration to identify barriers to disaster recovery access and disparate outcomes in disaster-affected areas. HUD told the GAO that such an interagency agreement existed, but it had expired.
The GAO also recommended HUD establish a plan to mitigate and address risks within HUD’s lead paint compliance monitoring process. That specific recommendation has been open since 2018.