The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has completed a study with results that most of us could have anticipated. After a review of a number of agencies it found that, "Housing assistance is fragmented across 160 programs and activities."
The federal government plays a major role in providing housing assistance to homebuyers and renters and to state and local governments. It incurred about $170 billion in obligations for federal assistances and forgone tax revenues in FY2010. Current fiscal realities raise questions about the efficiency of multiple housing programs and activities across federal agencies with similar goals, products, and delivery systems. The report assesses the (1) extent to which there is overlap or fragmentation in selected housing programs, (2) federal collaborative efforts, and (3) implications of consolidating selected housing programs.
GAO found overlaps in the services offered, geographic areas serviced, and products offered. For example, programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) through FHA and the Rural Housing Service (RHS) both provide financing for development and rehabilitation of multifamily housing for low and moderate income housing, as does the Department of Treasury. HUD and Treasury have tax credit programs focused in urban and suburban areas while RHS financed properties are more likely to be in rural areas. On the other hand, in 2009 FHA guaranteed more mortgage loans in rural areas than did either RHS or the Veterans Administration (VA) which also guarantee such loans.
GAO says that opportunities exist to increase collaboration and potentially realize efficiencies among the agencies and two years ago it established an interagency task force to evaluate the potential for coordinating or consolidating homeownership loan programs at HUD, USDA, and VA. HUD, Treasury, and USDA have been working to consolidate and align requirements for rental housing program. Neither the task force nor internal efforts have taken full advantage of opportunities to incorporate key collaborative practices.
GAO recognizes that consolidating programs across agencies carries implications for clients, existing programs, personnel, portfolios, and information systems but points to a suggestion the office made in 2000 that Congress consider requiring USDA and HUD to look at merging some programs serving similar markets with similar products and now certain aspects of the RHS and FHA homeownership programs are showing evidence of growing similarity.
The current statutory framework imposes additional challenges on the agencies' ability to further consolidate similar programs. Thus, any evaluations of which programs, products, systems, and processes to retain, revise, consolidate, or eliminate would involve complex analyses, trade-offs, and difficult policy decisions. The task force offers opportunities for these agencies to identify potential areas for consolidation or greater coordination and which actions would require statutory change.
Based on the study GAO has made identical recommendations to HUD, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), USDA, Treasury, and the VA to step up activities of the task force. Specifically, OMB called on them to consolidate and align requirements in multifamily programs, document their efforts in annual and strategic plans, and identify specific programs for consolidation.