Opening Statements of Committee Members

Opening Statement of Chairman Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)

Hearing on the Nomination of the Honorable Mel Martinez, of Florida,
to be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
10:00 a.m., Wednesday, January 17, 2001

I am pleased to be able to hold this hearing on the confirmation of Mr. Martinez. I met with Mr. Martinez in my office last week, and found him to be serious about and committed to the enterprise he is about to undertake. First and foremost, I was encouraged by his statement when first nominated, when he said:

"I will work hard to ensure that every American has every opportunity to have affordable housing."

Mr. Martinez, I look forward to working with you to achieve this goal.

I want to take a few opening moments this morning to review the substantial progress HUD has made over recent years, as well as to set out what I see as the challenges facing Mr. Martinez and the Department.

HUD has had a history of being a troubled agency. While many of its programs do a good job of providing decent homes to millions of poor and working families, it has proven to be a difficult Department to manage.

In 1994, in fact, HUD was put on the General Accounting Office (GAO) "high risk" list, the only agency to be so listed. However, as a result of concentrated efforts by Secretary Cuomo and his top staff, I understand that the GAO will announce this afternoon that HUD is now off the high risk list. They achieved this result by working tirelessly to correct the problems in financial, oversight, procurement systems, and the like. It is widely known that Secretary Cuomo has devoted significant time and effort to address these managerial issues.

This is by no means to say all of HUD's problems have been solved. But it does mean that Mr. Martinez will take over a Department with a management system in place that is moving HUD in the right direction. I believe his primary job, and I hope he will agree, is to sustain this progress.

Let me emphasize a couple of these reforms. First, I believe it is extremely important to continue the physical inspections of public and assisted housing.

We need to continue to support the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which has played an important role in helping us reach historically high levels of homeownership, including record levels among black and Hispanic families. FHA has offered millions of Americans their opportunity to take part in the American dream of homeownership. To keep that dream alive, Mr. Martinez needs to continue HUD's efforts to identify and sanction lenders and appraisers who consistently make bad loans. Last Congress, I introduced legislation to codify this program, which is called "Credit Watch." I hope to have Mr. Martinez' help in passing that legislation this year.

We need to continue the work HUD has only just started, with the Treasury Department, to fight predatory lending, by enforcing the fair housing laws and other statutes, and by working with the Congress to develop new tools to fight these abusive practices.

To sustain the broad progress noted by the GAO, Mr. Martinez will have to hire capable Assistant Secretaries and other staff who have demonstrated competence in their fields. I know that Vice-President Elect Cheney committed to Mr. Martinez that he would have the flexibility to hire such qualified staff. I urge Mr. Martinez to do so.

I want to conclude by noting that one of Mr. Cuomo's significant accomplishments is the success he had in making housing an important issue inside the Clinton Administration, a success that was made concrete by increasing budget resources for HUD over the past several years.

Mr. Martinez will face the challenge of convincing his colleagues at OMB of the importance of sustaining the budget success achieved under Secretary Cuomo. Much of what we seek to accomplish, whether it is better education, more effective job-training, getting people from welfare to work, or other efforts to empower people, rests upon the premiss that people have an affordable place to live in a safe and stable neighborhood.

I want to inform my colleagues that it is my intention to work with Senator Gramm to ensure that this nomination is approved by the full Senate as quickly as possible after we receive the formal papers from the President on January 20.