WASHINGTON — Former Cabinet Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. agreed Wednesday to testify Aug. 3 before House investigators on allegations that he ordered two subordinates at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to approve a controversial Durham, N.C., apartment project.
In addition, Pierce promised to answer questions on other issues from the House subcommittee investigating political favoritism and poor management at the department during his eight-year tenure there.
In an earlier appearance before the panel, Pierce maintained that he had delegated action on the projects like the one in Durham to an internal committee of top-level aides.
A source close to Pierce said that he was stunned by the recent allegations by subordinates against him and is anxious to address the matter at the continuing hearings.
Returns to Washington
Pierce, the only black in former President Ronald Reagan's Cabinet and the only agency head to serve throughout Reagan's two terms, reportedly has returned to Washington to begin reviewing documents in preparation for his testimony.
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), chairman of the Government Operations Committee's subcommittee on employment and housing, which is conducting the investigation, announced Pierce's plans to reporters after Pierce had met privately with staff investigators.
Lantos said that Pierce was "most cooperative" and that the subcommittee offered to provide transcripts of testimony and other HUD documents that he might need to review the Durham Hosiery Mill low-income rehabilitation project that HUD approved in 1985 after seven years of consideration.
Two former high-ranking HUD aides, Shirley M. Wiseman and Janet Hale, testified last Friday that Pierce ordered them to approve the Durham funds, despite strong objections from HUD career staff experts.
Reports Pierce's Order
Wiseman said that she refused to approve the project and later left HUD for unrelated personal reasons. Hale, who succeeded Wiseman as acting assistant secretary of housing, said that Pierce approved the project himself and--through his executive assistant, Deborah Gore Dean--ordered her to issue instructions on it.
Hale said that she complied with the request, which came on the first day she held the job after succeeding Wiseman.
Pierce, in testimony last May 25, said under oath that he did not intervene personally in funding decisions for rehabilitation projects, such as the Durham apartments, and left those judgments to the staff committee, which included Wiseman and Hale. Both Wiseman and Hale said that they never heard of the funding panel and never took part in any such meetings.