Steven Preston, a largely unknown former executive at lawn-care giant ServiceMaster, went before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship this week to persuade lawmakers that he's the right man to lead the embattled Small Business Administration. We asked three Washington watchers for their thoughts on Preston's performance:
1) Do you think the hearing helped or hurt Preston's chances of being confirmed?
Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a Washington-based lobby:
"My original analysis was that he would certainly present very well, and he did. Barring any holds on the nomination that may not have anything to do with him personally -- that is, the hold is being used to get something else politically -- yes, he will be confirmed."
Andrew Sherman, partner in Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky, a Washington-based law firm, and co-founder of Grow Fast Grow Right, an entrepreneurship training firm:
"It helped his chances. There does not seem to be anyone in the wings as a back up."
Lloyd Chapman, president of the American Small Business League, a Petaluma, Calif.-based policy watchdog group:
"He'll absolutely be confirmed, because it's a Republican-led process."
2) Preston identified overhauling the SBA's disaster loan program as "job number one." What is your assessment of his list of priorities for the agency?
Kerrigan: "That is not a surprise given that the agency is overwhelmed in this arena, and we have just entered a new hurricane season. It is a big task, which will require focus."
Sherman: "I am hoping that he doesn't spend too much time on disaster relief. It is critical, but there are many other issues and problems that are equally important."
Chapman: "Preston's going to give lip-service to the disaster loan program so he doesn't make the president look bad. But his number one priority is really to close the SBA."
3) Did the hearing improve or worsen your impression of Preston?
Kerrigan: "I had no impression of Mr. Preston other than his career successes. I did not know him. I thought his background would suit the priorities of the agency -- that is, systems and management, along with some knowledge of small business operations. My impression of him is a good one at this point."
Sherman: "Neutral to better. I was pretty bullish at the outset, so the needle did not move all that much one way or the other."
Chapman: "He still looks like a hard-nosed Fortune 500 executive to me."
4) What is your assessment of the committee's line of questioning?
Kerrigan: "There were no surprises."
Sherman: "Pretty typical. There are some high visibility issues that naturally lead to some showboating, but I don't think anyone on the Hill has a better idea or better solution to the problems and challenges that he or anyone else running the SBA will face."
Chapman: "They went very soft on him. It was a brief hearing and it was mainly for show. There was nothing to really challenge him."