- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — President Bush today nominated Small Business Administrator Steve Preston as secretary of Housing and Urban Development replacing embattled secretary Alphonso Jackson who is being investigated by the FBI for contracting cronyism related to projects in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands.

Nearly two years ago, Mr. Preston replaced SBA chief Hector Barreto, whose ouster came after much political pressure for his slow handling and lack of preparedness to help small businesses in the Gulf Coast region secure loans and recover after Hurricane Katrina.

“The department requires strong leadership at a time when our housing market is experiencing a period of challenge and uncertainty,” Mr. Bush said, and added, “In seeking to fill this important Cabinet post I looked for a leader with an impressive background in finance; someone who understands the important role the housing market plays in the broader economy.”

“As the head of the Small Business Administration, Steve has advanced a reform agenda that made the agency more accountable, more effective and more responsive America’s entrepreneurs have received improved access to federal assistance, as well as educational resources,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Preston, 47, left his job as chief financial officer of ServiceMaster Co. in April 25, 2006, to fill the SBA post. He has also served as senior vice president and treasurer of First Data Corp. and senior vice president of investment banking at Lehman Brothers.

Mr. Bush called his new HUD secretary a “reformer” and “consensus builder” who had earned the respect of both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“I certainly hope to bring that spirit to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to help restore stability and confidence in the housing market, and to promote sustainable job ownership, free from discrimination in our country,” Mr. Preston said.

Mr. Preston said he hoped to help people pursue the American Dream by ensuring that the market operates “fairly and effectively.”

“And our solutions must restore confidence in our markets, while not erecting barriers to future entrepreneurs, investors and home buyers,” he said.

Democrats pounced immediately on the announcement, most notably Rep. Nydia Velazquez, New York Democrat, who chairs the House Small Business Committee.

“Trading one troubled agency for another is short-sighted, and it could not come at a worst time for the American people, said Mrs. Velazquez, who is also a member of the housing and community opportunity subcommittee.

“HUD’s crisis must be resolved without delay, but the fact remains the agency Mr. Preston has been responsible for leading is still plagued by serious problems of its own. Large businesses continue getting small business contracts, SBA’s Katrina disaster relief program is a failure, and morale of the agency’s personnel is one of the lowest in the federal government.”

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