Fair Housing:

Opportunities to Improve HUD's Oversight and Management of the Enforcement Process

GAO-04-463: Published: Apr 21, 2004. Publicly Released: May 6, 2004.

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Discrimination in housing on the basis of race, sex, family status, and other grounds is illegal in the United States. Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) and related agencies carry out enforcement activities for several thousand complaints of housing discrimination. The timeliness and effectiveness of the enforcement process have been continuing concerns. GAO describes the stages and practices of the fair housing enforcement process, looks at recent trends, and identifies factors that may influence the length and thoroughness of the process.

The current fair housing enforcement process provides a framework for addressing housing discrimination complaints. Both FHEO and Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) agencies located around the country take inquiries about potential incidences of discrimination and conduct investigations to determine whether discrimination did in fact occur. The practices used during intake and investigation differ among FHEO and the FHAP agencies, as the state and local agencies have some discretion in determining which practices work best for them. As a result, some agencies have developed procedures that they said improved the quality of intake and made investigations easier. For example, some FHAP agencies use experienced investigators during the intake process to help clients develop formal complaints. To date, FHEO has not looked at such practices to determine if they should be disseminated for potential use at other locales. Further, individuals alleging discrimination in housing sometimes face a lengthy wait to have their complaints investigated and decided. Although the law sets a benchmark of 100 days to complete investigations into complaints of discrimination, FHEO and the FHAP agencies often do not meet that deadline. The typical time to complete an investigation in 1996 through 2003 was more than 200 days, with some investigations taking much longer. However, a lack of data makes it impossible to assess the full length and outcomes of fair housing enforcement activities. For example, because FHAP agencies are not required to report intake data to FHEO, complete information is not available on the number of initial contacts individuals alleging discrimination make with FHAP agencies. A lack of data on the ultimate outcomes of some investigations conducted by both FHEO and FHAP agencies may also prevent FHEO from fully measuring the time that complaints face before cases are ultimately decided. Human capital management challenges, such as ensuring adequate numbers of trained staff, further affect FHEO's ability to carry out its mission in a timely manner.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process, the HUD Secretary should direct the Assistant Secretary of FHEO to ensure that hubs enter cause dates into the automated case-tracking system in a consistent manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that HUD improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process by ensuring that hubs enter cause dates into the Title Eight Automated Paperless Tracking System (TEAPOTS) in a consistent manner. In April 2004, we reported that, according to a HUD official, FHEO hubs do not record cause dates in TEAPOTS consistently. Specifically, at least two hubs may initially record the date the case is transferred to the regional counsel, rather than the date of the issuance of a determination of reasonable cause with which the regional counsel has concurred. To address this concern, TEAPOTS has been revised to include a field that captures the FHAP cause date (for cases input by FHAP agencies) and a recommended cause date (i.e., FHEO Date Cause Proposed for cases input by FHEO). According to a HUD official, recommended cause date is entered when forwarding a case file to the Office of General Counsel (OGC) that is being recommended for a reasonable cause determination. This change ensures that the actual cause date field in TEAPOTS maintains the date that OGC concurs on the reasonable cause determination.

    Recommendation: To improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process, the HUD Secretary should direct the Assistant Secretary of FHEO to ensure that the automated case-tracking system includes complete, reliable data on the outcomes of the adjudication stage of the fair housing enforcement process for FHEO and FHAP agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On April 16, 2007, HUD issued a revised FHAP regulation that states that FHAPs must provide, in writing, reports on outcomes in the adjudication process of its fair housing cases. While, as of September 2008, there is no requirement for contractors to enter this information into TEAPOTS, the regulation ensures that FHEO has the information. FHEO officials noted that Regional Directors use the FHAP reports for planning and reporting purposes. In addition, HUD is currently working with its IT department to determine whether an existing screen within TEAPOTS can be augmented to include outcomes and key dates in the adjudication phase for FHAP cases. In the past, FHEO passed cause causes on to OGC for adjudication and did not receive further information or have access to the case in TEAPOTS and OGC was not required to input outcomes or key dates in adjudication into TEAPOTS. On September 26, 2008, HUD's new Assistant GC drafted a Technical Guidance Memo addressed to all regional counsel directing OGC staff to enter all data into TEAPOTS once a final order has been issued in a charged case. The memo states that this data, which can only be entered by the office entering a charge of discrimination, includes the date on which a case is closed by HUD or DOJ, the relief obtained and the type of resolution (e.g., consent order, finding for United States). Further, the memo directs staff to enter this data for both election and non-election cases, and should include orders issued by administrative law judges, district courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. By issuing the revised FHAP agreement and the TGM for regional counsel, HUD has taken significant steps to implement our recommendation to ensure that TEAPOTS includes complete and reliable data on the outcomes in the adjudication stage of the fair housing enforcement process for both FHEO and FHAP agencies.

    Recommendation: To improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process, the HUD Secretary should direct the Assistant Secretary of FHEO to ensure that the automated case-tracking system includes complete, reliable data on key dates in the adjudication stage of the fair housing enforcement process for both FHEO and FHAP agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On April 16, 2007, HUD issued a revised FHAP regulation that states that FHAPs must provide, in writing, reports on key dates in the adjudication process of its fair housing cases. While, as of September 2008, there is no requirement for contractors to enter this information into TEAPOTS, the regulation ensures that FHEO has the information. FHEO officials noted that Regional Directors use the FHAP reports for planning and reporting purposes. In addition, HUD is currently working with its IT department to determine whether an existing screen within TEAPOTS can be augmented to include outcomes and key dates in the adjudication phase for FHAP cases. In the past, FHEO passed cause causes on to OGC for adjudication and did not receive further information or have access to the case in TEAPOTS and OGC was not required to input outcomes or key dates in adjudication into TEAPOTS. On September 26, 2008, HUD's new Assistant GC drafted a Technical Guidance Memo addressed to all regional counsel directing OGC staff to enter all data into TEAPOTS once a final order has been issued in a charged case. The memo states that this data, which can only be entered by the office entering a charge of discrimination, includes the date on which a case is closed by HUD or DOJ, the relief obtained and the type of resolution (e.g., consent order, finding for United States). Further, the memo directs staff to enter this data for both election and non-election cases, and should include orders issued by administrative law judges, district courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. By issuing the revised FHAP agreement and the TGM for regional counsel, HUD has taken significant steps to implement our recommendation to ensure that TEAPOTS includes complete and reliable data on the key dates in the adjudication stage of the fair housing enforcement process for both FHEO and FHAP agencies.

    Recommendation: To improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process, the HUD Secretary should direct the Assistant Secretary of FHEO to ensure that the automated case-tracking system includes complete, reliable data on key dates in the intake stage of the fair housing enforcement process for FHAP agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2006, FHEO revised cooperative and interim Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) agreements to ensure the inclusion of key dates in TEAPOTS. FHEO issued a July 15, 2005 memorandum to all FHEO regional directors, who oversee FHAP agencies, that outlined the appropriate use of TEAPOTS. FHEO issued a Technical Guidance Memorandum (TGM) to all FHEO employees dated January 20, 2006, that outlines requirements for improving customer service in handling initial inquiries, complaint intake, investigations and conciliation. The revised FHAP Agreement in June 2006 specifically instructs agencies to ensure that the initial contact date field in TEAPOTS reflects the earliest date of contact referenced in the case file.

    Recommendation: To improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process, the HUD Secretary should direct the Assistant Secretary of FHEO to establish a way to identify and share information on effective practices among its regional fair housing offices and FHAP agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2004, we recommended that HUD improve the management and oversight of the fair housing enforcement process by establishing a way to identify and share information on effective practices among its regional fair housing offices and FHAP agencies. We reported that our limited review at enforcement operations at FHAP agencies and FHEO centers within 3 of FHEO's 10 regions revealed practices that could potentially expedite fair housing complaint cases if they were adopted elsewhere. Further, we noted that practitioners may be unaware of such practices because FHEO has not taken steps to identify those practices that hold the promise of improving the fair housing enforcement process. To address these concerns, HUD has taken several actions. First, FHEO began using a Quality Management Review (QMR) process to identify exemplary practices in the field offices. During the QMR, a team made up of field and headquarters staff interviews various members of the office under review about processes and procedures that work well. The team also reviews and assesses the effectiveness of the process(es) identified. The team then makes a recommendation whether to adopt the identified practice(s) on a nationwide basis. Second, FHEO began using the SharePoint server, a new communication network system, to distribute information to its Regional and Field Offices. According to HUD, SharePoint features FHEO's current and pending assignments, due dates, management polices, and workflow. A General Session feature within the system publicizes FHEO's Headquarters/Field essential current events, training activities, field conference calls notes, and information that FHEO HQ/Field Directors requested to be distributed to the staff of FHEO throughout the Regions. Users can also retrieve information about case preliminary analyses/findings, HMDA plans, Proposal Rules and/or essential data in need of urgent action from the Regional Offices. According to HUD, this communication tool is a more effective and efficient way for FHEO staff to make better decisions and improve time management. Finally, FHEO Regional Staff hold, at a minimum, monthly conference calls with FHAP agencies to share important information and provide updates on any changes in policies and directives. FHEO Headquarters maintains an electronic distribution list of all FHAP agencies that is used to share important fair housing enforcement information with the agencies. In addition, when FHEO charges a case, a summary of the charge is posted on HUD's website and forwarded to the FHAP agencies listed on HUD's distribution list. According to HUD, FHAP agencies use this information as a guide when handling similar cases.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should also, in developing HUD's 5-year Departmental Workforce Plan, follow the five key principles discussed in this report. As part of the comprehensive workforce analysis, the Secretary should ensure that HUD fully considers a wide range of strategies to make certain that FHEO obtains and maximizes the necessary skills and competencies needed to achieve its current and emerging mission and strategic goals with the resources it can reasonably expect to be available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2004, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) participated in the development of a comprehensive departmental workforce planning analysis conducted by the Logistics Management Institute (LMI). A five-year Strategic Workforce Plan was developed for FHEO, which included a projection of FHEO's future mission and demands for FHEO's products, services, staffing levels and core competency requirements. In addition, LMI developed a Departmental Strategic Workforce Analysis Findings and Recommendations Report, summarizing their analysis of four HUD offices and providing recommendations on strategies and actions HUD should propose to close skill gaps. FHEO provides quarterly updates to HUD's Office of Administration regarding its efforts to close skill gaps in its mission critical occupations and meet its human capital goals. Various strategies are used to close skill gaps and increase competencies within the organization. These include external hiring (when available), on-the-job training, mentoring, shadowing, HUD Virtual University courses, in-house weekly training meetings (brown-bag sessions), staff detail and rotation assignments, and courses offered by the National Fair Housing Training Academy. FHEO develops and submits comprehensive staffing plans that address its future mission and strategic goals. In addition, the organization conducted an assessment of current staffing levels and designed a Leadership Development Program to ensure continuity of operations in the future. As part of HUD's training strategy, FHEO developed a Program Training Action Plan to address mission-critical skill gaps, build talent pools to address future organizational needs and provide staff with training in the most cost-effective manner. This plan addresses training needs to close management, general and technical skill gaps.

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