A Word about Jack… er, Mr. Kemp

May 5, 2009 – 11:59 am

by Robin Medecke

I heard the news Saturday of his death, and watched the news feeds thereafter. The first day was full of reminiscing about his football career, the second his political career and “also-ran” veep on Bob Dole’s presidential bid. Conservative media sources touted him as the second most influential person in the Republican Party aside from former President Reagan. In all, a lovely memorial worthy of someone who’d dedicated themselves to public service and lived their life in the national eye. But it took three days for the media to pick up on his role as once Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and even then there were only vague references. Why is it being played down among his accomplishments?

Now, granted my view may be a bit ascant, as Jack was my “boss” back when he held the role of Secretary at HUD. But I was quite young then and only saw the “trickle down” effects of his oversight during my tenure there. The main stream papers mentioned “Enterprise Zones” and tax cuts in his political resume, but nowhere have I seen mention of the major changes that occurred at HUD under Jack’s watch.

When I started at the Cincinnati Field Office as a clerk in the Single Family Division in 1988, the entire office shared a single WANG Word Processing machine that was shared between all departments. CHUMS was in its infancy and the internet wasn’t even on the dreamboard. I watched that rapidly evolve in a few short years into a LAN network of PC’s running Windows 3.11 (anyone remember that?!) and then an agency-wide network that eventually grew into the systems of HUDCLIPS and HUDUSERS that most of you are familiar with now. The bulky, paper manuals, memos and mail became obsolete (glad I didn’t have that transcription job).

Under Kemp, HUD also adopted an Affordable Housing initiative that resulted in numerous joint ventures with community and non-profit organizations nationwide to support local programs to promote the development and support of low- to moderate-income housing programs that grew to help hundreds of thousands of people.

I also saw drastic budget cuts and a complete reorganization within HUD itself, where the various departments responsible for housing development, housing management, and everything in between were shuffled into one large deck and sorted back out from their previous primary functions of serving either the Single- or Multi-Family segments of the housing market to generalized Housing Development or Housing Management. The result of that (and part of Kemp’s goal for the agency) was the attrition of 400,000 employees through redundancy and early retirement. Many functions, including Direct Endorsement Underwriting, became completely outsourced in that purge and have remained so since. HUD became “leaner and meaner” – and less of a drag on budgetary resources. As a taxpayer, I appreciated that at the time.

I was just a small cog in a giant machine during those years and I left when Jack did (part of that 400,000). But he deserves some credit and recognition for the leaps and bounds HUD made in those years, and regardless of the direction the agency is taking now, I thought it deserved a mention.

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