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Representative Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, charges that Ben Carson is “woefully unqualified” to lead the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and even some of Carson’s supporters cite his lack of experience. For his part, Carson believes he can make a “significant contribution particularly by strengthening communities in need” and “ensuring that our nation’s housing needs are met.” Dr. Carson might want to consult Andrew Cuomo, HUD boss under Bill Clinton.
“I set out to help save an agency Republicans had written off, and at times, tried to abolish,” Cuomo wrote in his 2014 memoir, All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life. Cuomo had seen “effective programs and examples of creative government” and wanted clear up the nation’s “large-scale urban ills.” President Clinton duly issued an executive order “directing HUD to break the cycle of homelessness in America.”
Cuomo took the lead but found that HUD was not up to the task. Former HUD boss Henry Cisneros described the federal agency as “a bureaucracy far more attentive to process than results, characterized by slavish loyalty to nonperforming programs.” That accords with Cuomo’s own observations.
“HUD had taught me,” he explains, “that a central-government-knows-best approach rarely produces the best results.” In fact, according to Cuomo, “even the physical space at HUD was dysfunctional”—not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The late Republican Jack Kemp, a former NFL quarterback and outspoken conservative, set out to clean up the “swamp” and make HUD work to help the poor and homeless. One would be hard pressed to consider Kemp’s efforts a success, and as Andrew Cuomo confirmed, HUD remains resistant to reform.
Republicans no longer speak of abolishing HUD and appear to believe that, under new management, the federal bureaucracy can do great things. No one doubts that, as president-elect Donald Trump says, Ben Carson has a “brilliant mind.” On the other hand, in a federal agency where even the physical space is dysfunctional, a brilliant mind can easily go to waste.