In order to increase the effectiveness of critical federal housing programs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is using data analysis to track performance, identify problems and make needed changes.
HUDStat, the performance system co-created by Sara Meyers, a 33-year-old-staffer at HUD, is used to compile and analyze data in clear, concise ways that make it easier to understand the outcomes of federal housing programs. In addition to this work, Meyers was instrumental in creating processes to track $13.6 billion in HUD economic stimulus funding in 2009 and $50 billion in Hurricane Sandy disaster relief money in 2012.
“Sara has a relentless focus on results, but she does it in a way that builds consensus,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Her work is so effective because it helps her colleagues think about how to clear hurdles and get positive outcomes for the American people.”
HUDStat was launched in October 2010 and has become recognized across the government as a model of data and performance management. Donovan has led regular HUDStat meetings in which he and others review the data to assess programs and management challenges, find strong and weak performances, understand trends, share best practices and solve problems.
HUD staff use HUDStat data in their work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the effectiveness of finding housing for homeless veterans. It enables them to assess which state and local agencies are efficiently moving veterans into housing and which ones are lagging behind. This has led to helping more veterans find housing in such cities as Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Fla.
HUDStat also has been used in efforts to prevent foreclosures, monitor residential vacancy rates in hard-hit regions and identify target areas for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. In one HUDStat meeting that focused on rental housing, HUD examined geographic disparities in public housing occupancy rates to identify opportunities for increasing the number of renters it serves.
“Sara rolls her sleeves up, but she also has the ability to see the big picture,” said Peter Grace, who formerly served as director of HUD’s Office of Strategic Planning and Management. “She takes vast amounts of data and information and makes it digestible. From a management perspective, this makes it easier to figure out what the data are telling us and raises questions that are ripe for discussion for management and performance.”
HUD officials said the department has always collected a lot of data but has not always been able to use it an effective manner. Meyers was able to turn numbers on a page into information that is understandable and used to achieve greater results.
And her work hasn’t been limited to just HUD. When Donovan was picked by President Obama to chair the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, he asked Meyers to set up a program management office to monitor the billions of dollars in federal relief aid allocated to the affected region. By aggregating data from 19 agencies in a transparent way, she was able to create a single administration-wide picture of how billions of dollars of funding was translating into help for families and small businesses recovering from a historic natural disaster.
“In the Sandy role, she provided information and was successful at getting agencies to agree to a set of plans,” said Lisa Danzig, the associate director for personnel and performance at the Office of Management and Budget. “As a result, we are rebuilding in a more coordinated way and, most importantly, building a more resilient infrastructure.”
Marion Mollegen McFadden, HUD’s senior advisor to the secretary for disaster recovery, said the process Meyers created “holds grantees and agencies accountable in a new way, looking at recovery the way people on the ground do rather than through the silos of individual programs.”
Others who work with Meyers praised her interpersonal skills as well as her talent with data.
When funding from Congress for Sandy recovery went out to federal agencies, “Sara was able to build an amount of trust between people to ensure that there was real sharing of information in a way that wasn’t required and was new,” said Laurel Blatchford, senior advisor to Enterprise Community Partners, an organization that provides expertise for affordable housing.
Although Congress didn’t require the level of data collection and analysis that Meyers helped to develop, it proved beneficial when Donovan and McFadden were called to testify before congressional committees.
“The questions the American people have are, ‘Where is the Sandy money going? What is the federal government doing?’” McFadden said. “Sara provides transparency to the public, so people will be clearer about the money.”