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Preston Sworn in as Secretary of HUD

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Friday, June 6, 2008; 2:25 PM

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Welcome. Thank you.

So glad to be here at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And I've come to introduce you to your new boss, Secretary Steve Preston.

I want to thank Steve's wife, Molly, five children...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

... and his mom and dad, Lee and Ursula.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming.

Secretary Kempthorne and Director John Walters.

It's good to see two of your predecessors here, Steve: Alphonso Jackson and Jack Kemp.

Thank you all for coming.

(APPLAUSE)

This is a time of turbulence in the housing market and slow growth for our overall economy. This morning the Labor Department reported that our economy lost 49,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate rose to 5.5 percent.

This rise was caused in part by a surge of new young entrants into the job market. But it's clearly a sign that is consistent with slow economic growth.

To help keep this economy growing, we did pass an economic stimulus package that provides tax rebates for American families and incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment. We're beginning to see the signs that the stimulus may be working. And now Congress needs to take the next steps.

At a time when Americans are concerned about higher gas prices, Congress needs to pass legislation that expands -- will allow for the expansion of American energy production.

In this period of economic uncertainty, the last thing the Americans need is a massive tax increase, so Congress needs to send a clear message that the tax relief that we passed will be made permanent.

(APPLAUSE)

Unfortunately, these policies are being blocked by the Democratic Congress. So I call on congressional leaders to put partisanship aside and work with me to enact these important initiatives for the American people.

This department is also critical to meeting the challenges we face in our economy. We need strong leadership in the secretary's office. Steve Preston is the right man for the job.

He's a financial expert who understands how the housing market impacts our broader economy. He's a skilled manager. He's a person of character and integrity.

Secretary Preston will work to strengthen homeownership with the same dedication he brought to his previous job of strengthening the American small-business community. As the head of the SBA, Steve presided over loan guarantee programs that are similar in structure to those run by the Federal Housing Administration.

Just as entrepreneurs found a trusted friend Steve Preston, so will American homeowners.

Before coming to the SBA, Steve gained valuable financial and leadership experience in the private sector. His impressive career has taken him from investment banking to senior financial posts at major corporations. Wherever he's gone, Steve has earned the admiration of his colleagues.

He takes on this new challenge with my full confidence and my trust.

Steve takes over for a good man, my long-time buddy, Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I thank you for your compassion and your hard work. You helped change a lot of lives. And I wish you and Marcia all the very best. See you back in Texas.

(LAUGHTER)

I also want to thank Deputy Secretary Roy Bernardi for his service. He filled in as acting secretary during this transition. He spent nearly seven years of his life here at this department.

And I appreciate your hard work on behalf of all Americans.

(APPLAUSE)

As Steve takes office, his first priority will be to help lead my administration's response to the challenges in the housing market.

We've taken aggressive action to help responsible homeowners to keep their homes by giving the FHA greater flexibility to offer refinancing options.

We're also helping to bring together what's now called the Hope Now alliance. By working together, participants in the mortgage industry have helped more than one million -- one and a half million families stay in their homes.

Hope Now is working, but we've got more to do.

Yesterday we learned that the foreclosure rates continued to rise in the first quarter. So Steve will work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to address this challenge.

We need to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We need to pass legislation to modernize the Federal Housing Administration and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages.

By taking these steps, we'll help more responsible homeowners weather this rough patch and, at the same time, strengthen the dream of homeownership for generations to come.

I've got confidence that we're going to meet these challenges. And I've got confidence in the people who work in this department. I appreciate what you do every day to expand the dream of homeownership. I thank you for your efforts to provide low-income Americans with access to affordable housing. You work hard to make sure our communities are more vibrant and hopeful.

The United States is fortunate to have such devoted public servants to this department, and I'm grateful for your service.

You're going to have a worthy leader in Steve Preston. I thank the Senate for confirming Steve as your new secretary. I now ask the Senate to confirm the three remaining HUD nominees to help him lead this department.

BUSH: Steve, I appreciate you stepping forward to serve your country once again. I congratulate you.

And now I ask my chief of staff, Josh Bolten, to administer of oath of office.

(OATH IS ADMINISTERED)

(APPLAUSE)

SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT STEVE PRESTON: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Mr. President, Chief of Staff Bolten, Molly, my children, my parents, current and former members of the Cabinet, thank you for coming.

My new partners at HUD, my friends and...

(APPLAUSE)

... and the many other distinguished guests here, thank you for being here today. This is truly very humbling, to see you all here to celebrate this event.

It is a profound privilege to serve our country as the secretary of urban housing and development and to be a voice for the people that we serve.

Thank you, Mr. President for that confidence, for that trust.

I also want to thank Senators Dodd and Shelby in their role in expediting the nomination process.

PRESTON: Ladies and gentlemen, it's appropriate that we gather here in this building. It's named for Robert C. Weaver, who was the first secretary for HUD.

And Dr. Weaver cautioned against treating people like statistics or data. In fact, he asked instead that we look behind the data to see the values and the concerns and the hopes in the lives of the people that we all serve.

We assist the homeless on shelter here at HUD. We help provide millions of Americans with affordable and public housing. Families who want to buy a home often turn to us. And, increasingly, those who are currently in homes come to us to keep them.

We know that homeownership can be a source of pride, it can be a place to grow up and grow old together, it can be a source for wealth creation and it is a source of -- it is a stake in our communities. And also at HUD, we have a role of building and rebuilding many of those communities.

You know, at the moment, there are difficulties in the housing market, and this is a decisive moment in our nation's economic history. HUD will be central to restoring stability in our markets and in the lives of many Americans.

In fact, just in the last year, thanks to changes made by you, Mr. President, FHA is increasingly a pathway for hundreds of thousands of families to a more affordable, secure mortgage. And thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

And while we're all committed to addressing the immediate challenges in the housing market, we must also show the same kind of commitment to our future.

We must provide a longer-term foundation for reform in the institutions that give homeowners access to capital to make that American dream possible, while also generating enduring confidence in our financial markets.

PRESTON: As we confront these challenges, we're blessed with talented and committed employees at HUD. You understand that we can make a difference. In the next few months, we will need the best efforts of every one of you in the path ahead.

So, Mr. President, I look forward to working with you, I look forward to working with my partners in the administration. I'm committed to collaborating in a bipartisan fashion with members of Congress in the path ahead.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let's roll up our sleeves, let's lock our arms. We have a lot of work to do we can do together as a team. So thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

END


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