Another Bush appointee comes up short

Almost as when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, another key Bush appointee has come up short in the midst of a crisis.

Alphonso Jackson resigned this week as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the mother ship of the Federal Housing Administration, the lead agency in trying to stem the onslaught of foreclosures. Depending on which rescue plan passes Congress, FHA could be responsible for hundreds of billions more in taxpayer dollars to refinance struggling homeowners.

The secretary leaves under a cloud of controversy. He is the subject of FBI, Justice Department and HUD investigations into allegedly steering large HUD contracts to his friends and for having work done on his vacation home by the recipient of a HUD contract. Separately, Congress and HUD’s inspector general are investigating whether Jackson retaliated against the Philadelphia Housing Authority for refusing to turn over a valuable piece of property to a Jackson friend.

Jackson was part of President Bush’s original circle of Texas friends who came with him to Washington. He has been with the administration since the outset, first as deputy HUD secretary and then rising to Cabinet status in 2004.

It is unclear whether Jackson was pushed or left by mutual agreement. He conferred with White House aides last week, met with Bush on Saturday and resigned Monday. He said he was quitting to attend to personal and family matters, but it’s hard to see him voluntarily leaving a post he reveled in with only 10 months left to go.

Bush, loyal to a fault, might have stuck with his beleaguered secretary if Jackson last month had not contemptuously stonewalled a Senate subcommittee investigating the awarding of HUD contracts. In a letter to the president, outraged Democrats demanded his resignation and Bush apparently decided to cut his losses.

With the clock running, Bush must now find somebody, perhaps from within the department, who can pass congressional muster and take up the task of stabilizing the housing market.