2007 Emerging Leaders

Nicole Faison

Created income verification program that eliminated more than $2 billion in fraudulent payments by HUD’s rental assistance programs.

When you work at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), you get to know a few things about undesirable addresses. And in Washington, D.C., the last place anyone wants to reside is on the Government Accountability Office’s “high-risk” list. This is the home of the federal government’s most troubled programs—the ones that feed the stereotypes about waste, fraud and abuse. HUD’s rental assistance program was on this dubious list for 13 years; the operative word being was. Nicole Faison helped to eliminate more than $2 billion in improper payments within the program. Thanks to this 36-year-old, the program has been removed from the high-risk list, allowing it to be recognized for the people it helps, not the money it wastes.

HUD administers two multi-billion dollar rental assistance programs: public housing in which residents live in federally operated buildings and the Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, which gives recipients vouchers that can be used to pay rent at certain private housing facilities. A 2001 study showed that HUD made billions annually in improper rental assistance subsidy payments. The amount of money paid to ineligible tenants would have been enough to house approximately 55,000 additional families. A primary source of the problem was the inability of housing program administrators to accurately and consistently verify tenant-reported (or unreported) income, which allowed individuals to underreport their income and receive aid that should have gone to someone more in need.

For Nicole Faison, this problem was hardly abstract. She once worked for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. In this job, she often suspected people were misreporting their income, but she did not have a tool that would enable her to check. She was attending business school at night and was so interested in the topic that she wrote her master’s thesis on how to develop an income verification system.

In 2002, Faison took a job with HUD, and she got a rare opportunity to put many recommendations from her thesis into practice. She was charged with developing HUD’s upfront income verification tool, known as the Enterprise Income Verification (EIV) system. This system allowed housing administrators controlled access to income data in existing federal databases. This information could be used to verify amounts and sources of beneficiaries’ income, including wages and federal benefits. Most importantly, this tool enabled program administrators to identify income, and its sources, that had not been disclosed by tenants. By improving the ability to determine program eligibility and ensure that recipients receive the proper level of assistance, the EIV system has helped to dramatically reduce and deter fraud.

Faison personally developed the instructional guide for the program and provided program administrators with hands-on training sessions to understand how to incorporate this new technology in the day-to-day administration of rental assistance programs. Her workshops emphasized reducing fraud and improper payments. She also provided training to special agents in the Inspector General’s office.

In 2006, HUD successfully deployed the EIV system to more than 4,100 public housing authorities nationwide, making it available to everyone who administers HUD’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs for more than 4 million households.

The program is making a difference beyond everyone’s expectations. As a result of the EIV tool, HUD was able to reduce the total of improper payments by more than $2 billion, a decrease of more than 60 percent. Consequently, HUD became the first agency to achieve green status for “Eliminating Improper Payments” on the President’s Management Agenda scorecard, and HUD’s rental assistance programs were taken off the GAO’s high-risk list.

Nicole Faison helped transform HUD’s rental assistance programs from high-risk to high-impact. Thanks to her work, more eligible, low-income families who need housing assistance are receiving it, which is certainly the most gratifying recognition she could ever hope to receive.

This medalist was the recipient of the Call to Service Medal, which was updated to the Emerging Leaders Medal in 2020.