Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Alphonso Jackson: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Over at Talking Points Memo, they've got the goods on Alphonso Jackson, the delusional HUD secretary who was forced to quit recently:

...the Washington Post reports on three minority HUD contractors who in very short spans went from few, if any, HUD contracts to many millions of dollar's worth. The common denominator for all three firms was that they were well-connected in GOP circles or with HUD officials.

Now that may be a scandal in itself, but so is what happened to the career HUD staffers who raised questions.

The contract specialist who flagged concerns about one of the companies was asked to return to her previous job within HUD, the Post reports. "At that point, the top procurement people -- Jo Baylor and Annette Hancock -- decided my services would no longer be needed because I was a pain in their neck," said Gloria Freeman, the specialist, who has since retired.

Another contracting specialist, also since retired, was reassigned to a different HUD job within weeks of finding that one of the companies had submitted an exaggerated claim under the contract and instead owed HUD money.

The Post doesn't link these three contractors directly to Jackson; rather, their rapid rise despite performance issues is symptomatic of HUD during the Jackson era. This isn't the first time retaliation has been alleged. The Philadelphia public housing director is suing for retaliation, alleging that his refusal to help out a Jackson buddy led HUD to take enforcement action against the housing authority as punishment. Emails previously published by the Washington Post suggest a warped management climate within HUD, with one HUD official asking another, "Would you like me to make his life less happy? If so, how?"

The Washington Post goes on to detail the work of Gloria Freeman, who, like Bunnatine Greenhouse, stood up against the onslaught of incompetence and corruption and paid the price for it:

During a few weeks in 2004, the three-employee company, Harrington, Moran and Barksdale Inc. (HMBI), went from no government work to landing $71 million in contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the upkeep and sale of defaulted homes. It had previously managed a handful of apartment buildings and development projects.

The company's meteoric rise -- and HUD's willingness to bend the rules to accommodate it -- surprised veteran agency contracting specialist Gloria Freeman.

"After you've been in the business awhile, you get to know the signs -- 'This is a friend; let's help him out,' " she said in an interview. Not long after Freeman complained to her supervisors, she was asked to return to her previous policy job.


HMBI, of Fort Worth, was led by Republicans with significant HUD experience. Chief executive Maurice Barksdale was an assistant secretary to Reagan-era HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. and became a minor figure in a 1980s political favoritism scandal. Its vice president, Albert Moran, also worked at the agency during the Reagan years.

Listed as having three employees in 2004 when it won its first contract, HMBI has accumulated $282 million in HUD work, all but $18.8 million of it in small-business awards. Former and current contract officials said staff members questioned HMBI's qualifications.

Contract specialist Freeman said she first ran into trouble when she insisted that the company follow procedures and post a required bond. She said her supervisor proposed waiving the requirement. Freeman prevailed, and HMBI posted the money.

Tensions mounted again when Freeman objected to a fifth contract award that HMBI was seeking. She and others at HUD feared that the company could not handle more work. Her bosses did not want HMBI to fail or to trigger a Small Business Administration review of the company's abilities, she said. Freeman opposed her bosses' rule-bending efforts to try to avoid that review. Later, she said, she and another official persuaded Barksdale to withdraw the bid.

"At that point, the top procurement people -- Jo Baylor and Annette Hancock -- decided my services would no longer be needed because I was a pain in their neck," she said. After moving back to the policy job, she retired in 2005.

The whole sordid tale of Alphonso Jackson is a microcosm of this administration--cheap, tawdry behavior, the fox guarding the henhouse, the hand in the cookie jar, whatever you want to call it--and it is a sad and troubling example of what happens when cronyism rules the day.

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