Community Development:

Status of Urban Empowerment Zones

RCED-97-21: Published: Dec 20, 1996. Publicly Released: Jan 10, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community (EZ/EC) Program, focusing on the: (1) status of the program's implementation in the urban EZs, including the extent to which public housing officials and residents have been involved; (2) factors that participants believe have either helped or hindered efforts to carry out the program; and (3) plans for evaluating the program.

GAO found that: (1) the six urban EZs reviewed resemble each other in some ways, but also differ in ways that reflect the diversity of the communities; (2) all of the EZs have included public housing authority officials in planning and implementing the program; (3) many officials involved in implementing the program generally agreed on factors that have either helped or hindered their efforts; (4) in a survey GAO conducted of program participants at the federal, state, and local levels, over half of the 27 program officials who responded agreed that community representation on the EZ governance boards, technical assistance provided by HUD's contractors, enhanced communication among stakeholders, and support from the city's mayor and from White House and cabinet-level officials had helped the program's implementation; (5) conversely, the difficulty in selecting a governance structure, the additional layer of bureaucracy created by the state government's involvement, preexisting relationships among EZ stakeholders, pressure for quick results, and the lack of federal funding for the program's initial administrative activities were frequently identified as factors constraining implementation; (6) HUD required each EZ to prepare a strategic plan indicating how it would satisfy the EZ program's four key principles and required the strategic plan to include realistic performance benchmarks for measuring progress in implementing the program; (7) all six of the urban EZs prepared strategic plans that include benchmarks describing the activities that the EZ planned to accomplish during the first 2 years of the program; and (8) HUD and the EZs have not yet described measurable outcomes for the program's key principles or indicated how the outputs anticipated from one or more benchmarks will help to achieve those outcomes.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 1998, HUD implemented an automated performance measurement system that is responsive to this recommendation. The system is Internet-based, links progress to one or more of the program's four key principles, and includes performance measurement information, such as outcome measures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should work with the EZs to establish a process for incorporating measurable outcomes for the program's principles into any future revisions of the EZs' strategic plans and benchmarks. Among other things, this process should describe the outcomes anticipated from the EZs' activities, indicate how the outcomes will be measured, and identify the benchmarks helping to achieve each outcome.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development


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