New HUD secretary rallies employees

Steve Preston is boosting spirits through gestures such as eating lunch in the cafeteria with employees.

New Secretary Steve Preston is working overtime to restore morale at the Housing and Urban Development Department in the wake of the contracting scandal that forced out his predecessor, Alphonso Jackson.

Last month, Preston met with 50 officials and staffers to discuss his 200-day plan for the troubled department.

Dubbed "Impact 200"--a recognition that he won't be around very long, with the Bush administration winding down--Preston's plan focuses on aiding homeowners in the mortgage crisis and providing more affordable housing. He also wants to improve the procurement system.

"Some career HUD people thought he was a caretaker," one official says, "but this SOB is sprinting to the finish line." Another added, "He was rallying the troops. The scandal took its toll around here--a lot of people were just worn out."

Preston, a former head of the Small Business Administration, is also winning plaudits for, of all things, eating lunch in the cafeteria with employees. "People notice things like that," another insider says.