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Friday, May 11, 2007

Commentary: Cleaning up HUD’s books

Back in 1994, the Housing and Urban Development Department was the face of the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk watch list. Today, HUD has eliminated all material weakness and high-risk designations, and has achieved a green score — indicating successful — on the president’s management agenda initiative on improved financial performance.

HUD’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer played a key leadership and support role in this transformation, which Comptroller General David Walker, head of GAO, called a historic achievement. So, how did we step out of our “back office” accounting services role to play a strategic role in changing the face of the department? There were six keys to our success:

1. Know the business of your agency and its major program goals, risks and known weaknesses in the program control and delivery structure.

2. Actively serve as the liaison between your business and administrative components and their inspector general and GAO auditors.

3. Take a leadership role in addressing cross-agency issues or issues in areas that lack capacity.

4. Work with all affected stakeholders to assess the root causes of major problems, and to coordinate the development of comprehensive corrective action plans to address those causes.

5. Focus on opportunities for increased use of automation to achieve efficiencies and improve service.

6. Meet and report on the status of corrective action plans continuously, and elevate problems and delays for resolution before they jeopardize goals.

Following these general principles has enabled the HUD CFO and its major program clients to eliminate seven material weakness issues and two high-risk program designations since 2001. As a result, HUD has: improved the delivery of $27 billion in annual rental assistance to provide 4.8 million households with decent, affordable housing; and reduced the risks of the Federal Housing Administration’s $400 billion Single Family Housing Mortgage Insurance Program portfolio to enable that institution to continue as a viable source for enabling low-income families to achieve the American dream of homeownership. These program improvements took a total HUD team effort, and the CFO is proud to have contributed.

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-James Martin, Published in FederalTimes.com

James Martin is deputy chief financial officer at the Housing and Urban Development Department. He is the 2007 recipient of the Donald L. Scantlebury Memorial Award for distinguished leadership in financial management improvements in the public sector.

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