- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez has one of the worst jobs in Washington, attempting to rein in a wildly overfed, galloping bureaucracy, which should, by all accounts, be consigned to the glue factory. But Mr. Martinez has thrown himself into the sticky mess with enthusiasm, telling editors and reporters of The Washington Times at a recent breakfast meeting that he had set up a joint taskforce with Health and Human Secretary Tommy Thompson "to try to unravel the regulatory maze that now happens on issues of the homeless." "Maze" is a bit of an understatement.
Sen. Fred Thompsons recently released report on federal government management problems pointed out, "There are 50 different federal homeless assistance programs administered by eight different agencies. The programs are highly fragmented since each program has its own eligibility criteria, application procedures and other requirements." Sounds like a regulatory labyrinth that would defy even the Minotaur.
Mr. Martinez promised to bull through the regulatory hurdles that Beltway bureaucrats often set in the way of communities racing to revitalization. Decrying the federal cookie-cutter approach, Mr. Martinez said he hopes he can devolve to local HUD offices the ability to be flexible to local situations, and he suggested "HUD ought to get the hell out of the way" when locals have better ideas.
Unfortunately, locals often have fairly good ideas of how to exploit federal largess, and Mr. Martinez promised to crack the whip on corruption in urban areas like New Orleans and Puerto Rico, the latter of which has already seen 13 local housing officials indicted for embezzling more than $2.5 million from taxpayers. Another scandal is brewing in Detroit, where Rep. Joe Knollenberg recently called for a criminal investigation after a report from the HUD Inspector General revealed nearly $18 million in alleged waste, fraud and abuse by the Detroit Housing Commission.
Paradoxically, according to Mr. Martinez, the St. Annes church community in Detroit offers a great example of the power of partnerships between public companies, non-profits and faith-based community groups to produce urban renewal. Mr. Martinez would like to see such programs expanded, especially since he was touched deeply by Catholic charities as a child. More than anything, he seems to view government thorough a federal framework, one in which governors in Washington, D.C., play an appropriately limited role. However, in running for a diminishment of HUDs authority, he is going against bureaucrats and Democrats, both thoroughbreds of federal expansion. Even if he succeeds, Mr. Martinez probably wont be crowned with roses. Right now, though, he has the look of a winner.

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