Rental Housing Assistance: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Criminal History Policies and Implementation of the Fugitive Felon Initiative
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FBI play roles in ensuring resident safety in federally-assisted housing. For example, HUD is responsible for monitoring local public housing agencies' compliance with requirements for screening applicants.
Also, HUD's Office of Inspector General works with the FBI to identify and apprehend fugitives who may be living in federally-assisted housing. But these efforts have not been consistent.
We made 7 recommendations to enhance HUD's oversight of local public housing agencies and improve collaboration between HUD's Office of Inspector General and the FBI.
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What GAO Found
Federal requirements for public housing agencies. Federal statutes and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations require public housing agencies (PHA) to conduct criminal history checks on individuals applying for rental assistance under HUD's public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs and deny assistance for six types of offenses. Mandatory denials include convictions for producing methamphetamine on the premises of federally-assisted housing and lifetime sex offender registrants. Otherwise, PHAs generally have discretion in establishing their criminal history policies and may deny assistance for other offenses or factor in mitigating circumstances.
HUD monitoring of public housing agencies. From 2011 through 2016, HUD issued new guidance to PHAs on criminal history policies, but these changes are not reflected in HUD's program guidebooks for PHAs. These guidebooks serve as key reference tools, but have not been updated in over 15 years. Updating them would help HUD more accurately communicate its criminal history policies. While HUD officials said their current efforts to update the guidebooks will reflect recent criminal history policy notices, documentation provided by the agency on these updates did not specifically address criminal history guidance. In addition, HUD's compliance reviews of high-risk PHAs do not address some criminal history policy requirements, such as the prohibition on using arrest records as the basis for determining eligibility. Further, these reviews are largely limited to examining PHAs' written policies and do not cover how PHAs implement those policies. More comprehensive compliance reviews would improve HUD's ability to identify areas of noncompliance with criminal history policy requirements.
Fugitive Felon Initiative. From fiscal years 2013 through 2017, the HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shared data through the Fugitive Felon Initiative, which led to the apprehension of more than 1,200 wanted persons who may have lived in HUD-assisted housing. However, GAO found that the HUD OIG had not defined its regional office responsibilities under the initiative and that four of the seven HUD OIG regions did not participate from 2012 through 2016. The HUD OIG revised its procedures for the initiative in April 2018 to include regional office responsibilities, such as coordinating with law enforcement agencies. According to HUD OIG officials, regional offices are now required to coordinate with law enforcement agencies on a priority list of investigative leads, which include warrants for violent felonies, sexual assault, and narcotics distribution. However, the HUD OIG does not plan to assess regional office implementation of several requirements. Collecting and assessing more comprehensive information on regional office activities would help the HUD OIG determine the extent to which regions are undertaking required activities. In addition, the HUD OIG and the FBI have not consistently shared information on the initiative's results—such as apprehension statistics and program savings—which could help evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative. Further, the HUD OIG's and the FBI's current activities to implement the initiative differ in some areas from the agreed-upon responsibilities listed in their 2012 memorandum of understanding. Updating the memorandum to reflect current responsibilities under the initiative could help improve collaboration between the agencies and improve implementation.
Why GAO Did This Study
HUD has encouraged PHAs to balance resident safety with the housing needs of persons with criminal records when administering its rental assistance programs. PHAs are responsible for screening program applicants. The HUD OIG and the FBI implement the Fugitive Felon Initiative to identify and apprehend wanted persons receiving rental assistance.
GAO was asked to review HUD's criminal history policies and the Fugitive Felon Initiative. This report examines (1) federal requirements for PHAs' criminal history policies, (2) HUD guidance and monitoring of these requirements, and (3) implementation of the Fugitive Felon Initiative. GAO reviewed federal statutes and regulations and interviewed officials from HUD, the HUD OIG, and the FBI; analyzed Fugitive Felon Initiative data from 2013 through 2017; and interviewed staff at a nongeneralizable sample of 10 PHAs (selected based on size and other factors).
GAO is making seven recommendations, including that HUD update PHA guidebooks and improve monitoring procedures; that the HUD OIG assess more comprehensive information on the implementation of the Fugitive Felon Initiative; and that the HUD OIG and the FBI consistently share information on the initiative's results and update their memorandum of understanding to reflect current responsibilities. HUD and the FBI generally agreed. The HUD OIG did not agree with two of our recommendations. GAO maintains the recommendations, as discussed in the report.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Office of Public and Indian Housing||The HUD Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing should complete its updates of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program Guidebook and Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook to reflect current guidance on criminal history policies for its public housing and HCV programs. (Recommendation 1)||
In November 2019, HUD updated the HCV Program Guidebook to include information on criminal history policies. In June 2022, the Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook chapter on eligibility determination and denial of assistance was also updated.
|Office of Public and Indian Housing||The HUD Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing should review HUD's Compliance Monitoring Checklist to determine if questions should be added to address additional federal criminal history requirements and revise checklist instructions to direct HUD staff to obtain information on PHAs' implementation of these requirements during compliance reviews. (Recommendation 2)||
In November 2018, HUD officials stated that HUD Office of Public and Indian Housing staff, including Regional Directors, reviewed the checklist and determined that no additional questions should be added as they believed the checklist addressed federal criminal history requirements. In March 2022, HUD officials provided their fiscal year 2020 compliance checklist and its instructions that contained revised and new questions addressing federal criminal history requirements, including a question related to the prohibition on using arrest records as the sole basis for determining eligibility.
|Office of Investigation||The HUD Assistant Inspector General for the Office of Investigation should collect and assess more comprehensive information on regional efforts to implement the activities listed in the 2018 Standard Operating Procedure. (Recommendation 3)||
HUD OIG did not agree with this recommendation, stating that it was a management function not required in statute or regulation and would be unduly burdensome. We maintain the recommendation is valid. According to HUD OIG's 2018 standard operating procedures, they are responsible for collecting and reporting statistics for some regional office activities. In January 2022, HUD OIG responded that the Fugitive Felon Initiative (FFI) is an initiative by which the majority, if not all, of the related outstanding felony warrants are the responsibility of other local, state, and federal law enforcement partners. While the OIG recognizes the value of the program, it has limited resources to apply to this initiative and primarily limits its interaction to assisting with data matching. As of January 2022, the MOU between the OIG and the FBI was in the process of being updated to reflect the limited role of the OIG.
|Office of Investigation||The HUD Assistant Inspector General for the Office of Investigation should, in collaboration with the FBI, determine what information on fugitive apprehensions and any estimated program savings that occur as the result of the Fugitive Felon Initiative would be most useful and consistently share such information with the FBI. (Recommendation 4)||
HUD OIG did not agree with this recommendation, stating that its ability to determine apprehensions and program savings is limited. However, the MOU between the HUD OIG and the FBI (as of the issuance of the report) states that the HUD OIG is to share this information with the FBI. In January 2022, the HUD OIG stated that it's ability to calculate program savings and apprehensions under the FFI is limited and is further constrained by the OIG not being the originating law enforcement warrant agency. As of January 2022, the MOU between the HUD OIG and the FBI was in the process of being updated to reflect the limited role of the OIG.
|Office of Investigation||The HUD Assistant Inspector General for the Office of Investigation should, in collaboration with the FBI, update the Fugitive Felon Initiative memorandum of understanding (MOU) to reflect the agencies' current activities and responsibilities. (Recommendation 5)||
HUD OIG agreed with this recommendation and would be taking steps to address it. As of January 2022, the MOU between the OIG and the FBI was in the process of being updated.
|Federal Bureau of Investigation||The Director of the FBI should, in collaboration with the HUD OIG, determine what information on fugitive apprehensions that occur as the result of the Fugitive Felon Initiative would be most useful and consistently share such information with the HUD OIG. (Recommendation 6)||
In 2018, we found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had not consistently shared information on the results of the Fugitive Felon Initiative with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General (HUD OIG) and had not agreed with HUD OIG on the type of information that would be most useful to share. As a result, we recommended that the Director of the FBI should, in collaboration with the HUD OIG, determine what information on fugitive apprehensions that occur as the result of the Fugitive Felon Initiative would be most useful and consistently share such information with the HUD OIG. In response, the FBI resumed sending statistics on the number of arrests resulting annually from the Fugitive Felon Initiative to the HUD OIG. In addition, the FBI sends HUD OIG, on a weekly basis, copies of forms documenting the dispositions of leads produced through the Fugitive Felon Initiative. Officials from HUD OIG confirmed that they have been receiving this information and that it is sufficient for HUD OIG's purposes. By sharing this information, HUD OIG and the FBI are better positioned to evaluate the effectiveness of the Fugitive Felon Initiative and identify areas for improvement.
|Federal Bureau of Investigation||The Director of the FBI should, in collaboration with the HUD OIG, update the Fugitive Felon Initiative MOU to reflect the agencies' current activities and responsibilities. (Recommendation 7)||
The Department of Justice agreed with this recommendation and will take action to update the MOU, in collaboration with the HUD OIG. As of January 2022, the MOU between the OIG and the FBI was in the process of being updated.