This is a difficult moment for Dallas where the city’s affordable housing and economic development policies are concerned, probably even a scary moment for some people. Since most of the money in question — possibly vast sums — comes from the federal government, we should be able to look to Washington for authority.
Lots of luck with that.
Sure, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General has had investigators resident at Dallas City Hall for a half year supposedly digging into what may be hundreds of millions of dollars in HUD funds for which no one can account.
But do you know what else the HUD OIG is dealing with at the moment? Maybe you remember that Dr. Ben Carson, the Trump appointee who is secretary of HUD, came to town in March, 2017 on a “listening tour.” Don’t remember? OK, now that I have mentioned it, maybe you wonder what a listening tour is.
Good question. HUD OIG is working on that. According to a July 6, 2017, internal HUD memo (copy below) originally unearthed and published at the end of last January by The Washington Post, many of the arrangements for Carson’s odd nationwide “listening tour” were made by and for his son, Ben Carson Jr., who is believed by HUD career staffers to be doing business with some of the people with whom his dad, the HUD secretary, met on the tour.
Before the tour started, lawyers at HUD told Carson they didn’t think he should take his son along. Carson answered by email in way that made them think he would heed their advice. But when the tour got underway, Carson took his son, his wife and his daughter-in-law with him.
The specifics in the memo have to do with arrangements in Baltimore. No allegations have been made public yet concerning the people with whom the Carson family team met in Dallas, so we won’t embarrass people here by dragging them into this by name. Yet. But the whole situation does begin to give a certain flavor, does it not, for what we can expect from HUD under the Trump administration.
There’s more than just that. Also along on some of the listening tour was Secretary Carson’s daughter-in-law, Merlynn Carson, perhaps named for the famous magician. Carson Junior and his wife had asked HUD to make sure the listening tour would include some personal time with Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Magically, less than three months after their listening tour meeting as The Washington Post reported, CMS granted a $485,000 no-bid consulting contract to a company called Myriddian, LLC, possibly named for the famous circle of constant longitude, whose chief executive is Merlynn Carson.
The contract was for consulting on that most important of all activities funded with tax dollars — outreach. For its half-million dollars in public funds from Medicare and Medicaid, Merlynn Carson’s Myrddian will help the people at Medicare and Medicaid learn how to reach out.
Reaching out is a growth industry here locally as well. Many public contracts for things like brickwork and curb repair even require that the businesses that win the contracts hire consultants to help them reach out. Often specific recommendations are made for whom to hire. Of course, that’s why people today are so much better at reaching out than they were in olden times.
Ah, but there’s more flavor to it than that. The one I think you may have glimpsed flying by in headlines in the last week was the story about Secretary Carson’s $31,000 table. The New York Times reported last week that Carson’s wife, Candy, had bullied a career HUD staffer into carrying out a lavish redecoration of the secretary’s office including a lot of very expensive furniture. It appears that when the staffer balked at circumventing departmental regulations and the law on expenditures, she was sent to some kind of Siberia within HUD.
All of these are matters under investigation by the same HUD OIG that has been rooming at our own City Hall for a half year. These are the people we are to believe will get to the bottom of the missing hundreds of millions in federal funds here sometime soon.
Which raises another question, something I have stumbled on myself a few times in the past year. What is the Office of Inspector General? It sounds very imposing, does it not? But why don’t we ever see the inspector general herself or himself? Doesn’t this sound like someone who should at least appear in a parade once in a while?
Well, they don’t, and that is because there are so many of them. Most national inspector general departments were created by the Inspector General Act of 1978, and most of the major federal agencies have one. But there is no Uber-Inspector General, no Chief Inspector. Instead, each inspector general is an employee and creature of the specific agency that he or she is supposed to inspect.
The HUD inspector general is Helen M. Albert, appointed to the office in June 2017, as the listening tour was just getting well underway. She has been with the HUD OIG since 2002.
In other words, the HUD inspector general works for Ben Carson. On the one hand, that simple fact does not mean the HUD OIG staff cannot be counted on to come up with an unbiased and effective analysis of the missing millions at Dallas City Hall. On the other hand, look at what else they’ve got on their plate.
First, the OIG must find a way to tell Carson that he really should not have used his listening tour to set up business meetings for his son and daughter-in-law. They might even have to tell him there may be consequences for his having done so.
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Then they have to talk to him about the $31,000 table and shipping the career staffer who tattled on him off to Siberia. Then they can get busy packing lots of parkas and long underwear for themselves for their own cold journeys to Siberia.
And somewhere in that mess, we taxpayers way out here in Dallas, Texas, are going to cup our hands to our mouths and shout in our most pitiful little voices: “But, waaaait! HUD Inspector General! What about the hundreds of millions in HUD money missing at Dallas City Hall?”
I’m going to let you fill in the blank for that answer.