Meet Pam! Pam Is A Competent Trump Official Who ... Oh Wait She Just Quit, GOODBYE PAM!
Time for another farewell to another government official who bucked the Trump system by being annoyingly competent. The Washington Post brings us the story of Pam Patenaude, who until today served as deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She was also one of the few people in top leadership who seemed to know a damn thing about HUD's mission and actually helping poor people get housing.
The WaPo story is kind of amazing. A whole bunch of current and former HUD insiders paint Patenaude as the one competent person in the agency fighting to do good work while surrounded by nincompoops. But Patenaude, ever the loyal political appointee, insisted in an interview that she's leaving to spend more time with her family and no, no, she certainly has no issues with the administration or the leadership of HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who has filled HUD with partisan hacks, suck-ups, and Trump campaign cast-offs who know nothing about HUD but needed well-paid government jobs. Ah, but we repeat ourselves.
Patenaude, who has worked at HUD in one capacity or another since the Reagan administration when she was 21, told WaPo reporters,
"It's a bittersweet farewell to HUD" [...]
She denied that internal conflicts played a role and said she looks forward to spending time with her husband at their home in New Hampshire. "These jobs are all-consuming," she said. "There are no ulterior motives. I'm not mad at the administration."
That's very different from the situation described by "five people with direct knowledge" of her 16 months as second in command at HUD, who say she was pretty much the main administrator keeping the place together. The whole story veers between the insiders telling WaPo about the bullshit Patenaude had to battle against, and Patenaude herself saying naw, it was all fine, really. One of her colleagues said there wasn't any single breaking-point issue that led her to resign in December, just a constant stream of frustrations from "pushing this rock uphill over and over again only to have it fall back down." You know, like the Greek myth of Wile E. Coyote.
Here's a f'rinstance, with the sources explaining an issue and then Patenaude making nice and insisting everything's fine, just fine, OK?
Patenaude disagreed with the agency's handling of an Obama-era fair-housing rule requiring communities receiving federal funds to address long-standing patterns of racial segregation, according to three people with direct knowledge of internal HUD debates. Carson had suspended the 2015 rule, calling it "burdensome."
Patenaude told The Washington Post she did not support the rule as written by the Obama administration but said she wanted to educate communities about the law as the agency deliberated on a path forward. She said policy discussions continue.
"My position was we had a moral and legal obligation to get it right," Patenaude said. "Policy discussions are a series of explorations, and Secretary Carson and I are absolutely aligned on the need to educate America about fair housing."
We sort of wish the reporters had looked into whether Patenaude's severance package includes treatment for Stockholm Syndrome.
One of the final boulders Patenaude had to deal with was actually rolled at her by conspiracy theorist in chief Donald Trump, who back in September convinced himself -- on the basis of zero evidence -- that Puerto Rico was sneakily diverting disaster aid to pay off its debt. Didn't matter that it wasn't happening in reality. He'd heard it, and he believed it, so he wanted action, damn it:
Trump told then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico, because he thought the island was misusing the money and taking advantage of the government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal deliberations. Instead, he wanted more of the money to go to Texas and Florida, the person said.
"POTUS was not consolable about this," the person said.
Patenaude cleared things up with budget officials in a December meeting, made clear that since Congress had directed the money for Puerto Rico it would be illegal to send it to
whiter more "deserving" disaster areas, and reassured them HUD was doing all the necessary oversight to keep those people in line.
Patenaude, who had visited Puerto Rico more than half a dozen times during her tenure, was about to make her final trip to the island as deputy secretary and wanted to ensure that [OMB Director Mick] Mulvaney's team corrected any misinformation transmitted to the president, said a HUD official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
And then, a week after Puerto Rico had finally been authorized to start accessing the disaster funds, Patenaude announced she'd be stepping down, whew.
"She didn't want to abandon Puerto Rico," said the HUD official. "Once she felt like she left Puerto Rico in a good place, she felt like she could leave."
Ah, but that's not how Patenaude put it in her interview with the Post.
I didn't push back. I advocated for Puerto Rico and assured the White House that Puerto Rico had sufficient financial controls in place and had put together a thoughtful housing and economic development recovery plan.
Patenaude also told the Post she will "continue to be supportive of the president and his agenda," and she plans to "be working very hard for his reelection."
Again, more follow-up seems called for from the reporters. For instance, will Patenaude's dental plan cover any damage from the obviously strenuous teeth-gritting on display here? We worry about her. Oh, and thanks to the government shutdown, Puerto Rico may be eligible to access the appropriated disaster funds, but actually processing them? That'll have to wait for Trump to get over his WALL tantrum.
As Michael Lewis details in his recent book The Fifth Risk, good functional government isn't solely about who's at the top of the org chart -- what really matters is having competent career people who know what agencies are supposed to do and how things actually get done. Of course, if the people at the top are incompetent boobies and they start filling appointed positions with fellow hacks and incompetents, things can start going sideways fast. Welcome to HUD in the Trump administration.
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