The Unintended Lessons Mitt Romney (and the Rest of Us) Could Learn from George Romney
Mr. Bonastia is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lehman College—City University of New York. His book, Knocking on the Door: The Federal Government’s Attempt to Desegregate the Suburbs, was published in June by Princeton University Press.
Whoever succeeds George W. Bush will have plenty of messes to clean up. One crucial issue to address is the lack of coordination within and between federal agencies. Although not a sexy, headline-grabbing issue, the obvious weaknesses in counterterrorism and disaster preparedness have made its importance unmistakable. If Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wins the presidential race and seeks to improve the performance of federal agencies, he will have some family history from which to learn.
Mitt Romney’s father, George, first achieved prominence as Governor of Michigan and later as a presidential aspirant. (Mitt’s mother, Lenore, made an unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat.) His frontrunner status for the 1968 Republican nomination evaporated after he claimed that his earlier endorsement of the Vietnam War came because U.S. officials overseas had “brainwashed” him. But it his experience as HUD secretary from 1969 to 1973 that may offer the most valuable lessons for Mitt and, for that matter, other aspiring chief executives.
President Nixon appointed Romney to be HUD Secretary shortly after passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which called on the agency to police housing discrimination, and the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, which directed HUD to spur enormous increases in subsidized housing. Romney did not dampen expectations. His exposure to “brainwashing” notwithstanding, Romney appeared to operate with a clear mind as HUD secretary. In a January 1970 speech, he asserted: “The most explosive threat to our nation is the confrontation between the poor and the minority groups who are concentrated in the central cities, and the middle income and affluent who live in the surrounding and separate communities. This confrontation is divisive. It is explosive. It must be resolved.” In his favor, Romney’s most controversial messages were smoothed by his personal magnetism. As one congressional staffer commented, “when it comes to proselytizing, no one is better at it than George Romney. He’s a super-salesman and he’s the perfect kind of guy to be selling something as controversial as [suburban integration]--even if you disagree with what George Romney might be telling you, you would never think that he was anything other than a solid all-America type.”
Early on, Romney believed that HUD could use its control over enormous housing subsidies to convince (or compel) housing developers to encourage integration in their site and tenant selection decisions. Employees in HUD’s Equal Opportunity office were enthusiastic advocates of housing integration. Staffers responsible for housing production, however, had several reasons to ignore the mandate for fair housing: (1) There was no institutional mechanism compelling them to address fair housing concerns in their funding decisions; (2) Ultimately, their superiors would rate their job performance on the volume of applications for housing subsidies that they processed, not the degree of desegregation they helped to create; and (3) Many of these employees had been working for federal housing agencies for years, and had little interest in disrupting cozy relationships with their friends in the housing industry.
In the final analysis, what George Romney lacked as HUD Secretary was not the desire to foster change, particularly in the urgent area of desegregation. Instead, it was Romney’s inability to steer this disjointed and unwieldy agency that helped to assure that the dual goals of desegregation and massive housing production would remain unfulfilled. This task would have been extremely difficult even for someone who had entered the job with some background in housing, or in running a massive federal bureaucracy. Romney, with neither of these experiences to draw upon, was in over his head.
To make matters worse, Romney never saw eye to eye with President Nixon. As early as March 1970, top White House staffers were plotting to oust him. Attorney General John Mitchell told Romney that he should resign if he was unwilling to follow administration policies on housing desegregation. “What the hell is Administration policy?” Romney retorted. “It changes from day to day and hour to hour.”
Surprisingly, Romney survived Nixon’s first term, and—despite ham-handed implementation of housing desegregation initiatives—changes to exclusionary housing patterns in the suburbs still remained possible throughout Nixon’s first term. Though Nixon never supported federally directed desegregation in housing and schools, he held office at a time when federal courts were interpreting civil rights statutes to require aggressive, pro-integrative action by federal and local governments. Powerless to stop the judiciary, Nixon worked to avoid public blame for the school desegregation controversies that ignited throughout his first term. He feared that the courts were beginning to “force” housing desegregation as well.
In this area, however, the President found a way out. Scandals in the Federal Housing Administration, which was a part of HUD, provided the opening. Though the scandals in the FHA’s inner-city programs had nothing to do with HUD’s suburban integration efforts, Nixon froze all housing funding in January 1973, effectively killing any remaining momentum (read: financial leverage) for HUD to spur housing desegregation.
So what are the lessons for Mitt and the other presidential hopefuls? For starters, if you want an effective federal agency, appoint someone who shares your vision for that agency, and has some expertise in the areas under the agency’s purview. Most importantly, the department secretary and the White House should agree on what the major priorities of the agency are. Congress loves to heap additional responsibilities on agencies, without commensurate increases in funding. The only missions with a real chance of success are those near the top of the priority list. For those missions, agency employees must be convinced that their careers will benefit if they help in achieving agency goals. All too often, overall agency goals and individual employee incentives point in opposite directions.
I do not expect that the 2008 presidential candidates will devote a lot of campaign time to the competent, efficient management of government agencies. But once the new chief executive moves into the White House, he or she would be well-advised to devote some attention to this area. The victims of Hurricane Katrina who felt betrayed by FEMA’s response would surely affirm the wisdom of such an effort.
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mike e laub - 10/1/2006
"Housing" Quotes from Governor Mitt Romney
“If Massachusetts is to remain economically strong and competitive, it must have more housing that is affordable to those across a broad range of incomes,” said Romney. “This local aid incentive will provide communities with additional funds to offset infrastructure and education expenses associated with a growing population.” Source: 03-11-2003 Press Release
“The Boston State Hospital project is a model of our smart growth strategy for future development of thousands of acres of state surplus land across the Commonwealth,” said Romney. “Building more affordable housing like this project is one of the key elements necessary to jumpstart the Massachusetts economy.” Source: 05-22-2003 Press Release
“This significant commitment of state and federal resources, along with millions of private investment dollars generated through the sale of tax credits, will increase the availability of housing for thousands of Massachusetts families,” said Romney. “Through this blend of resources, we can help ease our housing supply shortage while ensuring long-term, economic prosperity for our state.” Source: 06- 06-2003 Press Release
“This new law will allow MassHousing to finance mixed-income homes without interruption,” said Romney. “We must work harder, and be smarter, to increase the state's housing supply and have it affordable to those across a broad range of incomes.” Source: 07-23-2003 Press Release
“Since my Administration’s inception nearly one year ago, I have focused on the need to create more housing and smart growth policies that will allow us to expand housing without contributing to sprawl,” Romney said. He added, “This project is a perfect example of the type of new housing we should create in our developed urban centers close to all the services that make possible a desirable quality of life.” Source: 12-12-2003 Press Release
"Each year, we spend more than a quarter billion dollars each year to care for our homeless in the Commonwealth, but we need to focus more on long-term solutions by producing permanent housing opportunities for our citizens," said Romney. Romney added, "Today's awards will not only give a much needed boost to the state's overall affordable housing supply, but it will also go a long way in preventing future homelessness because nearly 20 percent of those units will be targeted to low-income individuals and families." Source: 12-05-2003 Press Release
“Our housing supply shortage is often cited as the number one barrier to business growth and job creation in Massachusetts and we are working overtime to build more housing” said Romney. “That is why my recently announced ‘Jobs First’ program includes additional local aid incentives for increased housing production and also proposes rewards for communities with state-owned surplus property to take action to spur residential development.” Source: 10-01-2003 Press Release
“This financial commitment represents an important blend of public resources which will leverage millions of private dollars and help ease the state’s current housing supply shortage,” said Romney. “In doing so, it will also serve as an investment in the future of our economic well being by making Massachusetts an attractive state in which to work and live.” Source: 08-25-2003 Press Release
“We are on a mission to double housing starts in Massachusetts and this is one approach to help get us there without spending new taxpayer dollars,” said Romney. “These new resources are critical at a time when public funds are limited, but the need for new housing is enormous.” Sourece: 01-26-2004 Press Release
“We need to give seniors the help they need to stay in their homes as long as possible. With a little help, we can keep seniors in their own home instead of putting them into what for many turns out to be an inappropriate institutionalized setting,” said Romney. He added, “Our goal is to help meet the needs of our elders as they define them, not as a government bureaucracy defines them.” Source: 02-18-2004 Press Release
“We want to make it easier for more families in Massachusetts to realize the American dream of buying their own home,” said Governor Romney. “The commitment of these funds from the Bush Administration not only represent downpayments for new homes, they also represent an investment towards a prosperous future for the families of our Commonwealth.” Source: 11-12-2004 Press Release
“The Village at Marstons Mills represents a down payment on a more affordable future for Barnstable County,” Romney said. “High-quality, affordable housing is just as important as top-notch schools, good jobs, a first-class infrastructure and safe neighborhoods. My Administration is working overtime to create additional housing opportunities for families across a broad range of incomes.” Sourece: 10-21-2004 Press Release
“The rising cost of housing has kept the dream of owning a home out of reach for too many families in Massachusetts,” said Governor Mitt Romney. “It is important that we continue to target our state resources into programs which bridge that financial gap and increase affordable homeownership opportunities for families throughout the Commonwealth.” Source : 03- 31-2004 Press Release
“Fair and affordable housing should be a right, not a privilege,” said Romney, addressing a meeting of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. “With the help of this newly formed committee, we will make that right a reality and ensure a vibrant and diverse Commonwealth for years to come.” Source : 03-08-2004 Press Release
“All hard-working families in the Commonwealth deserve a chance to be homeowners, but that has become increasingly difficult for many because we have some of the highest high housing costs in the nation,” said Romney. “To alleviate that problem, I have pledged to increase our housing supply by doubling the number of housing starts in Massachusetts so that there are more affordable homes available to those across a broad range of incomes,” he added. Source: 03-21-2005 Press Release
“We need to build more housing to keep our state economically competitive. This bill acknowledges community costs that may be associated with increased housing production,” said Romney. Source: 11-23-2005- Press Release
"Housing" Press Releases from Governor Mitt Romney
03-11-2003, ROMNEY ENCOURAGES CITIES AND TOWNS TO BUILD MORE HOUSING
05-22-2003, ROMNEY, MENINO ANNOUNCE NEW AFFORDABLE HOUSING
06- 06-2003, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES $74.5 MILLION FOR STATEWIDE HOUSING
07-23-2003, ROMNEY CELEBRATES NEW CHAPTER IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING
02-18-2003, ROMNEY CONVENES AFFORDABLE HOUSING TASK FORCE
12-12-2003, ROMNEY JOINS ARCHBISHOP O'MALLEY FOR NEW LYNN HOUSING
12-05-2003, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES $58.9 MILLION FOR NEW HOUSING
10-01-2003, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES $8.9 MILLION TO CREATE 825 MORE HOMES
08-25-2003, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES $17.6 MILLION TO CREATE MORE HOUSING
01-26-2004, ROMNEY LAUNCHES $100 MILLION PROGRAM TO SPUR NEW HOUSING
02-18-2004, ROMNEY WANTS TO HELP SENIORS STAY IN THEIR HOMES
11-12-2004, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES $1.5M FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYER PROGRAM
10-21-2004, ROMNEY AWARDS $1.4M TO PROMOTE NEW HOUSING ON CAPE COD
03- 31-2004, ROMNEY, HEALEY ANNOUNCE $2M FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS
03-08-2004, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES CREATION OF FAIR HOUSING ADVISORY PANEL
03-21-2005, ROMNEY AWARDS $4.55M FOR FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYER PROJECTS
11-23-2005-, ROMNEY SIGNS LAW TO COVER SCHOOL COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH SMART GROWTH HOUSING
12-05-2003 Governor Mitt Romney announces $58.9 million for new housing
12-12-2003; Governor Mitt Romney joins archbishop O' malley for new Lynn housing
mike e laub - 10/1/2006
Quotes from Governor Mitt Romney on Smart Growth
“If we are to attract new businesses and jobs to Massachusetts, we must be innovative in creating clearer, faster and more predictable paths for economic development. These grants will help us to reach those goals,” said Romney. “By targeting development to areas where there is already infrastructure in place, not only can we revitalize our older communities, but we can also curb sprawl as well.” (Taken from a 02-10-2005 Press Release)
“Right now, our ocean waters are vulnerable to unplanned development. We want to avoid a Wild West shootout, where projects are permitted on a ‘first come, first served’ basis,” said Romney. “The only way to protect our beautiful ocean environment is with comprehensive ocean zoning reform.” (Taken from a 03-18-2005 Press Release)
“To generate new jobs, spark economic growth and remain competitive, we need to be smart about how we invest taxpayer dollars in growth and development in Massachusetts,” said Romney. “These grants and loans will go a long way towards ensuring a robust economy and prosperous quality of life in the Commonwealth for many years to come.” (Taken from a 03-16-2006 Press Release)
Press Releases from Governor Mitt Romney on Smart Growth
11-23-2004, ROMNEY HONORS SMART GROWTH LEADERSHIP ACCOMPLISHMENTS
08-10-2004, HEALEY COMMITS $114 MILLION FOR SMART GROWTH DEVELOPMENT
04-01-2004, ROMNEY ANNOUNCES CHANGES TO SPUR SMART GROWTH PROJECTS
TK Howell - 9/25/2006
"I do not expect that the 2008 presidential candidates will devote a lot of campaign time to the competent, efficient management of government agencies."
I would be willing to bet you that this Race comes down to Clinton vs. Romney, and the whole race comes down to this countrys cry for real "competents, efficent management of goverment agencies" ,and Romeny wins.
But nice artical, and keep an eye on Romney.