Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp expressed anger yesterday at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee move to curtail his department's ability to fund some of his favorite projects, calling the dispute a "turf war."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the subcommittee that controls budgets for HUD, the Veterans Administration and 22 independent agencies, has told Kemp she has "great reservations" about transferring public housing to private ownership, a key component of Kemp's plans at HUD. Yesterday, he signed sales contracts for the first apartments to be sold under the program at the Kenilworth-Parkside development in Southeast Washington.
Until Thursday, Mikulski had refused to release the funds in time for yesterday's ceremony, which was attended by Mayor Marion Barry, tenant activist Kimi Gray and local dignitaries. The Kenilworth-Parkside concerns were resolved in time for yesterday's contract signing, but the problems brewing between HUD and the Senate subcommittee continue to irk HUD officials.
"This is not a threat, but I wouldn't want to stay at HUD if we can't finish this," Kemp said afterward of the tenant ownership initiative. "I was born to be HUD secretary, but they've got to give me the resources."
He said he is unable to do the job "if Congress is going to cut me off at the knees."
In an unusual move, the appropriations bill awaiting Senate action would outlaw transfers of funds in the department from one function to another. Such funding shifts, known as reprogramming, are part of the budget routine for most agencies of government. Lawmakers, however, have insisted that they have the right to veto such transfers. The Kenilworth-Parkside funding was one such reprogramming.
The appropriations measure would also bar Kemp or any other HUD official from using first-class air travel and would abolish the Office of Public Affairs, which handles media and public information requests.
Such restrictions have not been applied to other agencies under the subcommittee's purview. Some members, however, have been unhappy with Kemp's criticism of their decision to add 28 special projects to the 1991 HUD budget that he deemed "pork barrel" favors for members of Congress.
Kemp is most angry at Mikulski's reluctance to expand the public housing ownership components of his HUD program. Speaking at yesterday's Kenilworth-Parkside ceremony, he chided Congress for hesitating to support the plan and pledged to create "one million new homeowners" from former public housing tenants by 1992.
"Some people say it will cost money," he said of the plan, which has been criticized as an overly expensive way to provide housing for the poor. "Imagine that."
Kemp has defended the program as an incentive for public housing tenants to escape poverty and has said every apartment sold to tenants will be replaced by rental housing vouchers and certificates. Others, however, have said selling units to tenants will not make a significant difference for most poor people, who can afford only to rent.
An aide to Mikulski said there is nothing personal in her actions regarding the HUD budget. Asked if she was taking similar action with the veterans affairs budget also under her subcommittee's control, the aide responded, "The subcommittee agrees with more of the priorities VA has exhibited than it does with the priorities that HUD has exhibited."
Kemp and Mikulski plan to talk Monday. Until then, the 27 workers in HUD's Office of Public Affairs appear to be the first casualties in the dispute.