HUD under fire for drafting plan to hire 900 new employees

Members of Congress and a labor union representing employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development have criticized a HUD plan to hire approximately 900 new workers over the next several months, filling slots that open through normal attrition.

HUD officials say the initiative, known as Project Hire, is designed to raise staffing to a level deemed necessary to carry out the agency's mission.

HUD has not officially announced the Project Hire program, but the plan is already drawing fire from key lawmakers and from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal employees' union.

Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., sent a letter Monday to Douglas Kantor, deputy chief of staff at HUD, questioning the timing and the need for Project Hire. Lawmakers have expressed concern that HUD might use the program to allow political appointees to "burrow in" to the career civil service.

A HUD official who asked not to be identified said the effort was "business as usual" for the department and that there was nothing special about the timing.

"The department's planned hiring is an example of prudent management. HUD has taken into account its needs and the attrition within the department .... The hiring will not put political appointees into career positions-Office of Personnel Management regulations restrict those types of hires," said HUD spokeswoman Ginger Cruz.

Mica, who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, said HUD's current hiring effort seems at odds with HUD's announced effort to reduce its workforce.

In 1997, HUD published its 2020 Management Reform Plan, aimed at restructuring the agency and rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. One goal was to downsize HUD staff from 10,500 to 7,500 and refocus staff based on workload demands. The department currently has about 9,000 full-time employees.

Local 2032 of AFGE planned to protest Project Hire in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The union Tuesday questioned the agency's ability to fund the program and expressed concern that HUD was looking to hire the majority of employees at higher grade levels.

The HUD official said the department would hire employees across the General Schedule, and that many of the positions would be at lower grades.

This is not HUD's first attempt at increasing its workforce. Last year, as part of its Staffing 2000 program, the department posted 750 positions and hired 650 people, according to the HUD official.

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