CAJOLING and political arm-twisting by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have borne fruit: Baltimore has been saved -- at least temporarily -- from becoming a target of a federal housing fraud probe.
This is good news for City Hall, which had vehemently tried to stop FBI agents and auditors from looking at activities under the control of Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.
Mr. Schmoke was able to persuade a congressional committee to hold off on a probe of Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco by arguing that Susan Gaffney, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, had unjustly targeted cities with mayors and top housing officials who are African-American.
Yet a comprehensive investigation of federal housing spending -- in Baltimore and elsewhere -- is long overdue. It should not be limited to scrutinizing housing authorities, though, which are easy targets for technical violations. It also should focus on systemic problems in other HUD-supervised activities, such as subsidies and loan guarantee and rehabilitation financing programs.
Seven months ago, Mr. Henson hired an investigator general to rectify problems within the nation's fifth largest housing authority, which operates 18,000 subsidized apartments. Even though Mr. Henson also heads the city's separate housing department, the investigator general has no authority over that agency, which is only occasionally scrutinized by city auditors. That situation should be rectified by the mayor.
In his five years, Mr. Henson has overhauled the troubled housing authority, in the process raising serious concerns about his stewardship of agency funds. Mr. Henson needs to make the most of this temporary reprieve from a federal probe by attacking his department's serious management flaws. That's the best way to continue to keep federal investigators at bay.
Pub Date: 6/26/98