Death by red tape

October 25, 1991

Faced with the prospect of a lawsuit by the city, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month backed away from its threat to eliminate community block grant funds for Baltimore. HUD's face-saving retreat only serves to reinforce the suspicion that the agency has known all along that its case lacked merit.

If anything, the episode served to highlight the contradiction between Ronald Reagan's old line about "eliminating waste, fraud and abuse" and his self-proclaimed antipathy to "excessive government regulation." Those two conservative mantras collided head on in the current imbroglio: On one hand, HUD was demanding a virtual minute-by-minute accounting of every block grant employee's work day going back 10 years or more. On the other, it was complaining the city couldn't keep track of the literally millions of pieces of paper generated by that process.

Obviously there has to be a balance between HUD's legitimate desire for accountability and the city's practical need for workers who don't end up spending all their time filling out forms simply in order to convince bureaucrats in Washington that their jobs consist of something other than filling out forms.

Let us hope HUD and the city finally resolve this matter so they can get on with the job they are supposed to be doing -- providing decent housing for the citizens of Baltimore.

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