Beard Unretires (Again) to be CAO

Posted February 7, 2007 at 6:53pm

Last in a three-part series profiling the House officers.

Somehow retirement just doesn’t seem to stick for Dan Beard, who will take over the job of the Chief Administrative Officer of the House next week.

Beard has attempted to retire multiple times after serving for more than three decades in a variety of public and private sector jobs, but somehow new opportunities keep finding him.

Most recently, after serving the past several years as a senior adviser at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, the 63-year-old Beard decided to leave the working world behind and write a book about water issues in the Western United States. It’s a subject close to his heart after his years working on natural resource issues and serving as a commissioner at the Bureau of Reclamation.

After finishing the manuscript, Beard, a native of Washington state who now resides in Maryland, was in the process of searching for a publisher last month when a call came in from the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). On the other end was Pelosi’s chief of staff, John Lawrence, whom Beard knew from their days working together in Rep. George Miller’s (D-Calif.) office. Lawrence asked if Beard would come in for an interview with Pelosi for the CAO job, a patronage post created by the then-new Republican majority in 1995 that is one of the three top House officer positions.

“The one thing [Pelosi] wanted to know is if I fully understood the job and really wanted to do this because this is a far-flung institution and a tough job,” Beard said of his subsequent interview. “And I told her I was going into this with my eyes wide open and I was fully prepared.”

Looking back, Beard reflected on a career that began with the Congressional Research Service and took him to the House, the Senate, the White House and even the National Audubon Society.

“I’ve run large organizations with 8,000 employees and I’ve run small organizations. I’ve run for-profit organizations, nonprofit organizations and I’ve run government agencies,” Beard said. “So I have a lot of experience leading organizations and managing organizations, and I think the best way to say this is all the things that I’ve done over my long career have really led me to this position.”

In a release last week announcing that Beard had been selected to replace Jay Eagen — the man who for almost a decade has been in charge of managing House technology initiatives, food service contracts and generally keeping the trains running on time — Pelosi said, “Dan Beard’s years of work in the many facets of our government … provide him with vast management experience that is necessary to run the crucial functions of the House.”

But in the week since that announcement, Republicans have been less than pleased about the appointment of Beard, who in the early 1990s served as a Democratic staff director for the then-House Interior Committee.

During statements on the House floor this week, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, and other Republican lawmakers said that their concerns over Beard’s appointment lie not in his abilities but in the fact that Pelosi did not use the same search process that was used to find Eagen in 1997. At that time an outside search firm was selected and overseen by a special, partisan-neutral Congressional commission.

“I have serious concerns about the lack of transparency and the selection process that have resulted in [Beard’s] appointment,” Ehlers said Tuesday. “I think this new appointee is going to owe his allegiance to only one person, that is the Speaker of the House, and I don’t believe that is the best way to operate the House of Representatives.”

“I do not question the credentials of Mr. Beard,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said. “Will he make a great CAO? I do not know, quite frankly, because he has never come before us. … We have actually done a disjustice to him, because [a bipartisan selection process] would empower that office in a bipartisan manner.”

When asked about those concerns on Tuesday, after the House passed a resolution making his appointment official on Feb. 15, Beard said that “there really isn’t any partisanship in whether you get somebody a paycheck.”

“That isn’t a partisan function or issue and so we don’t have to worry about that. And that’s really what this job entails,” he added. “It’s all those functions and activities. They are important to the legislative process, they are fundamentally important to the operation of the institution, but they don’t need to be run in a partisan way.”

He said that because the CAO’s office is so large and because it touches every part of the institution, it must be an agency devoted to professionalism and not politics.

“I think all I can say is, I will try to be myself,” Beard said. “I enter this position knowing full well what [Eagen] has done in the past and because I was here under the old system I know what that can be like. … The CAO is responsible for putting together, justifying and delivering and then monitoring the implementation of the budget of the House of Representatives, which is $1.2 billion. … You want that to be run as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

And because there are so many functions and activities taking place in the CAO’s office that are so diverse, “you have to be brutal about setting priorities,” Beard said.

But “in this position you don’t set priorities by yourself. You set them in consultation with the Democratic and Republican leadership, with the Committee on House Administration, the Appropriations Committees” and all of the various Congressional stakeholders, he said.

One priority that Beard said he hopes to stress to his 435 new bosses stems from his lifelong interest in natural resource management issues.

“There have been so many significant changes in technology and business process that allow us to operate an institution with a greener perspective,” he said. “Businesses and institutions that have moved in that direction have found that it reduces costs, it improves the quality of the air for their employees, and that it reduces the carbon footprint and the environmental impacts associated with that.”

He also said he wants to expand the capacity and services offered by the House day care facility in the near future.

“I really think the House should have the best day care facility that we can,” he said. “We have a day care center in the Ford Building but it’s a capacity problem. … People that work here work long hours for low pay in pretty tough working conditions. … And if you throw on top of that that they have a child and then they can’t find day care services close by that are reliable, I just don’t think that’s right.”

Beard’s other initial priority will be to continue the work Eagen has done to build a CAO that is customer service-based.

“I want to make sure that we continue that focus, that we provide the best possible services we can for the Members, the committees and the offices that are here,” he said. “We want to measure our progress of how well we are doing and improve on that.”

And as Beard returns to Capitol Hill this month after two attempted retirements and a couple of private sector jobs, he gave credit to Eagen for making the CAO office the professional organization that it’s become since he left the Hill in the 1990s. (Beard noted that Eagen will stay with the office until the end of May to ensure a smooth transition.)

“The biggest change has been the CAO,” Beard said. “The nonlegislative functions are much improved. There’s a Starbucks now. Under the old system we would not have had that. We would have still had lunches that would have consisted of cold meatloaf and gravy and mashed potatoes. There’s a long way to go with food services and all the other parts of it, but this is a more customer-focused organization and more accommodating of the needs of the employees than we’ve ever had before.

“There’s so many things like that that have changed in the last 10 years that have been really remarkable and I think are real improvements to the institution.”