Ben Carson's HUD Full Of Unqualified Suck-Ups Like Ben Carson
Gosh, who ever would have guessed that the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Ben Carson has been transformed into a dumping ground for Carson and Trump campaign workers who aren't qualified for their very well-paid jobs? As the Washington Post reported yesterday, at least 24 of HUD's highest-paid political appointees have no experience in housing policy at all -- and 16 of those 24 worked on the Carson or Trump presidential campaigns. And here's a shocker: Their lack of qualifications has led to the rollout of some terrible policies, plus general confusion about routine matters. But at least Trump can say he's created some very well-paying jobs somewhere.
And wouldn't you know it, the Post found a Deep State operative to complain about how not normal this all is:
"This administration is different, because the people coming in really don't know housing at all," said Ron Ashford, who retired as director of HUD's public-housing supportive-service programs in January after 22 years at the agency. "As a result, they're pursuing initiatives that aren't grounded in reality."
For instance, there was that now-abandoned -- thankfully -- proposal to triple the rent on millions of families in public housing, because obviously if poor people are in danger of not having a roof over their heads, poor people will finally decide to stop being poor and get better-paying jobs. Turns out that was the brainchild of a political appointee, Ben Hobbs, who's never actually worked in housing but has some impressive credentials as a rightwing poverty expert.
[Hobbs] spent three months as a graduate fellow in "welfare studies" at the conservative Heritage Foundation in 2016 and five months as a poverty consultant at the libertarian Charles Koch Institute in 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile.
On the strength of his eight months interning with Screw The Poors foundations, Hobbs managed to get appointed as a "special policy adviser" in HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing, and came up with the brilliant proposal to price untold numbers of people out of public housing. Fortunately for those families, the actual roll-out of the proposal was botched so badly that Carson backed away from it in June, saying HUD no longer had to raise rents because Congress reinstated money Trump's budget cuts would have eliminated. (But they were very good cuts. Anything Mr. Trump proposes is good!)
Lucky for Hobbs, he managed to fail upwards!
Hobbs, who started at HUD making $79,720, took a leave from the agency in July when he was promoted to Trump's domestic-policy council, according to his LinkedIn profile. Hobbs directed all Post questions to HUD, which noted that he had also gained experience during three months as a graduate fellow on the House Ways and Means Committee in 2016. The agency added that Hobbs, who lists a master's degree in public policy from the London School of Economics on his profile, wrote his dissertation on the social safety net.
OK, well in that case, the guy's brilliantly qualified, since he wrote about poor people policy at the home of libertarian god Friedrich Hayek. Actual experience in public housing would only have sullied the purity of his free-market vision. Carry on, sir!
Also a teensy bit of a problem: Several of HUD's top-paid political appointees don't even have bachelor's degrees, but don't worry too much, because only career staff have to meet minimal education or job experience -- political appointees are special! Which is why it's perfectly fine that "special assistant" Mason Alexander was hired at a salary of $107,435 and later promoted to a "non-policy" senior advisory role, where he now makes $131,767. But he brings some serious work experience to the position, even though it's not related to housing. Alexander was previously an event manager, and at HUD, he helped Carson with scheduling, and who needs to know anything about housing to get paid six figures for that?
Alexander's résumé says he has an associate degree in communication from Tallahassee Community College and a professional background in strategic planning. The résumé noted that Alexander had helped prepare press staging areas for Trump campaign rallies.
The list goes on and on, and the whole piece is worth reading, because it's frankly amazing the excuses Team Carson comes up with, mostly along the lines of how all these campaign flunkies bring "diverse skills" and "fresh perspectives" to the agency. Like this lovely bafflegab from HUD spokeperson Raffi Williams, who offered WaPo a written statement explaining
that appointing people with "varying experiences to government is not unusual" and makes HUD a "more dynamic organization." The majority of top political appointees do have housing backgrounds, he noted.
"This administration has assembled a senior team at HUD with a deep well of experience in housing, community development and mortgage finance. Any suggestion to the contrary discounts their public service to the American people," Williams said. "HUD employees represent a broad array of backgrounds and experiences, as different roles have unique responsibilities and require diverse skill sets."
Translation: Trump won, shut up, and we had to find somewhere to put all these ideological hacks we owed favors to. You wouldn't want them in a department that matters, would you?
Scott Keller, who was chief of staff for one of George W. Bush's HUD secretaries, Alphonso Jackson, explained how completely normal this all actually is:
"Political staffers are not expected to be subject matter experts in every case," said Keller, who had coached Carson during his confirmation hearings. "Their job is to keep the trains running on time. And they don't need to be housing policy experts to do that."
Another Bush HUD secretary, Steve Preston, told the Post experience is overrated, really. Preston explained, "Knowing stuff doesn't mean you can get stuff done" which we're fairly certain was the Bush administration's motto. We're almost certain we saw it on a banner during the Iraq occupation. We expect Donald Trump to say he invented it.
The article does mention that under Barack Obama, virtually all the top HUD appointees were "widely recognized housing experts who were tapped to stabilize the agency after the housing market crash," and that in the highly paid jobs, only seven lacked housing-related experience. WaPo doesn't say whether any of them had only a community college degree, but we're betting probably not.
You know, it's almost as if the real problem here is that Republican administrations view HUD as a completely irrelevant agency where useless campaign hacks can be safely rewarded with government jobs in an agency no Republican gives two shits about, other than in terms of finding ways to cut services. If those people really mattered, they'd have better lobbyists.
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