Steven J. Preston likely will be easily confirmed to become secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development if yesterday's Senate Banking Committee's confirmation hearing is any indication.

Committee members lauded his experience and said they expect he will be confirmed quickly.

President Bush nominated Preston for the HUD post in late-April. He would replace Alphonso Jackson, who resigned in April under federal investigation for allegedly steering business to friends and associates.

Committee members yesterday praised Preston's work as head of the Small Business Administration, a post he has held since June 29, 2006, as well as his private sector experience.

Initially, some senators had reservations about Preston's lack of a housing background. Committee chairman Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., said soon after Preston became the nominee that "we need a strong leader at [HUD] ... yet the president's choice has no apparent housing background, which raises questions."

But in his opening statement yesterday, Dodd said that while he still had "some concerns" over Preston's lack of housing experience, "after meeting you personally, and speaking with Sen. [John] Kerry who chairs the Small Business Committee, I am hopeful that you have what it takes to begin to address the major challenges at HUD and in the larger housing market."

"You might want to get some rest over the Memorial Day break, because this is going to take a lot of hard work," Dodd added.

Committee members raised concerns about the lack of transparency of the department. Preston responded: "I am totally committed to transparency."

They also questioned how states can be held more accountable with how they spend community development block grant funds. "Any time you have a grant recipient, it's important to understand how effectively they're using the dollars," Preston said.

Dodd and other members said that there has been a lack of reliable information from former HUD secretaries, who were described as having communicated poorly with the committee.

Preston promised to work to form a better relationship with the committee.

"I also believe my record indicates a commitment to transparency, accountability, and bipartisan cooperation," he said. "If confirmed, I will look forward to working with the committee to continue efforts to resolve the nation's housing crisis, support people in their time of need, and ensure we have a Department of Housing and Urban Development that serves the country effectively at this crucial time."

Before joining the Small Business Administration, Preston was executive vice president of the ServiceMaster Co., a network of over 5,500 lawn care, pest control, disaster response, home inspection, and other franchises and companies. Prior to that, he was a senior vice president and treasurer of First Data Corp. and an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.


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