Senator Collins also asked Secretary Fudge about delays in distributing COVID relief and tracking service coordinators
Washington, D.C.—At an Appropriations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Ranking Member of the Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge about her department’s fiscal year 2022 budget request. Senator Collins asked Secretary Fudge to describe what steps HUD is taking to bolster its cybersecurity. She also requested clarity on why HUD has been slow to distribute COVID relief and complete a recommendation to improve its tracking of service coordinators.
One of the issues raised by Senator Collins was real estate wire fraud, which is one of the fastest growing cybercrimes according to the FBI. In 2019, more than $220 million was stolen from Americans as a result of those kinds of housing-related cyberattacks.
“I know from my work on the Aging Committee, that everyday Americans and particularly seniors are victims of cyberattacks,” Senator Collins said. “The budget requests nearly $86 million for the Office of Housing Counseling. What is HUD going to do to help combat real estate wire fraud by using a portion of that money for that purpose?”
Secretary Fudge revealed that, within the last few weeks, a HUD employee opened a virus on their system, which quickly spread to 750 people in the department. Secretary Fudge explained that “part of the problem was, because we outsource so much of this [and] because we don't have the skills in-house to do it, it took them three days to get back to us.” She pledged to address the current shortfalls in HUD’s IT system and offered two solutions to this problem: First, HUD needs to have tighter control over its contractors and set expectations. Second, HUD needs to develop its own cybersecurity measures.
“I agree that you need to improve your internal cybersecurity,” Senator Collins responded. “But I hope that you will also look at ways to educate consumers about the danger of real estate wire fraud.”
Pivoting to staffing challenges at HUD, Senator Collins pointed out that, “under the CARES Act, the Office of Community Planning and Development was given substantial new funding…and to date as of June 3rd, only 13.1 percent has been spent.”
Given that understaffing at HUD has been a barrier to effectively implementing programs, Senator Collins asked Secretary Fudge why only a portion of allocated funding has been spent on salaries.
“There is a problem at HUD,” Secretary Fudge replied. “I absolutely agree with you 100 percent…[W]hat I found when I arrived is that there didn't seem to be the kind of systems in place to make sure that these funds were spent properly and timely…We are addressing it now. And I think that you'll find that as we go through the next few months, through the assistance that we're going to provide as well as in house you're going to see a difference in those resources...”
Finally, Senator Collins asked about pending recommendations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding service coordinators, who link residents of eligible housing with supportive services provided by community agencies. One of the recommendations relates to the fact that HUD doesn't know how many service coordinators it funds.
“The Department funds these coordinators through a combination of direct grants and budget-based rents. So I'm pleased that our Subcommittees worked to increase funding for these counselors,” said Senator Collins. “Knowing how many service coordinators HUD has seems to me to be pretty fundamental information that the Department should have. So what is the Department doing to address these open GAO recommendations? It's really hard for us to decide how much money to give for how many people if you can't tell us how many people you have.”
Secretary Fudge reassured Senator Collins that she met with the Director of GAO about these recommendations last week and that HUD is “already putting in place a plan to make sure that we address them within a very short window of time.” She promised that HUD has “the information and we can get the information to you.”