D.C.'s Catania orders AIDS office to answer HUD

By Darryl Fears
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

After a federal threat to withhold millions in funding from the city because of poor oversight of AIDS programs, D.C. Council member David Catania on Monday ordered city health officials to gather the documents needed within 24 hours to address the concerns.

Catania (I-At Large) said the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which threatened to withhold future housing funding, has been requesting a program audit and other documentation from the city's HIV/AIDS administration since June, with no response.

"I am not happy," Catania said to Health Department Director Pierre Vigilance and AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader. He vowed to haul them into hearings every Friday, except the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, to address concerns over how city government manages programs that use millions of dollars to deliver services to people with HIV/AIDS.

Last week, HUD Assistant Secretary Mercedes M. Marquez said the agency would withhold $12 million if the District did not fix the problems. HUD monitoring reports have found that city oversight of the programs has fallen short since 2003, and that the city failed to provide financial records to HUD in some cases.

In e-mails starting in June, HUD requested records that "midlevel bureaucrats in the AIDS office did not respond to," Catania said.

In October, after Washington Post reports about fraud and waste in housing spending at the HIV/AIDS Administration, the tone of the e-mails became harsh. The Post investigation found that the HIV/AIDS Administration paid more than $25 million to nonprofit organizations that failed to deliver promised services.

"It does not seem to me that it should be that difficult to provide them with information they asked for when they asked for it," Catania said. "I hope to have an exhaustive list of every HUD concern, and we will go over them item by item."

Catania, chairman of the council's health committee, said that he and health officials are tentatively scheduled to meet with Marquez at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Vigilance and Hader agreed to comply and work with Catania to overcome the city's reputation as a poor manager of AIDS funds.

"We stand ready to provide any and all information needed to assure continued federal funding," Hader said. "We are confident that we will be able to resolve any remaining issues to ensure continued funding" of the housing program for people with AIDS.

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