Beard Bites Back

Posted February 5, 2008 at 6:44pm

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard on Tuesday defended the House’s decision to buy $89,000 worth of carbon offset credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange, more than a week after new concerns were raised about the value of the purchase.

[IMGCAP(1)]In a lengthy statement, Beard said he welcomes the results of upcoming investigations by the Government Accountability Office and Federal Trade Commission, which examine whether the carbon-trading marketplace is “mature enough to substantiate the spending of taxpayer dollars on offsets.”

Oversight and control of the trading system are needed to make sure investments are sound, Beard said, adding that carbon credits “play a critical role” in helping government groups and private-sector companies become carbon-neutral.

Beard oversees the Green the Capitol Initiative on behalf of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). One of the project’s main goals is for the House to be carbon-neutral by the end of 2008. But that cannot happen without the purchase of carbon credits.

A recent investigation by The Washington Post found that some of the credits purchased by the House went to fund projects that had already ended or weren’t effective, which prompted Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) to ask the GAO to look into the purchase.

Concern about offsets isn’t new. In a Nov. 2 letter to Beard, House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) argued that officials should wait until a separate GAO investigation studying the offset market was completed before making the purchase. (Beard bought the offsets a few days later.)

“This is a long overdue acknowledgment that there are serious concerns surrounding the lack of discretion applied to this costly purchase at the expense of the American taxpayer,” Ehlers spokeswoman Salley Collins said of Beard’s statement. “Unfortunately, it is after the fact.”

In an interview, Beard said he purchased the credits on behalf of House leadership, noting that the House Administration and Appropriations committees approved the move. Ehlers’ concerns emerged after the purchase already had been given the green light by authorizers, Beard said.

“I think the implication of some of the [criticism] is that this was done in sort of the dead of the night,” Beard said. “That the CAO got an idea and sort of did something, but that’s far from the case. … This was fully vetted by all of the appropriate committees.”

Others on Capitol Hill remained supportive of the offset purchase on Tuesday, including Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.).

“Offsetting the House of Representatives’ greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for this Congress that Congressman Emanuel is proud of and will continue to support,” a spokeswoman said.

Page Delays. A report by the House Inspector General investigating the page program was supposed to be completed last week, but it has yet to surface and officials aren’t saying when it will be released.

The report will address the accusations of former House Page Board members Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.). The board’s two GOP members both resigned in December, citing a lack of communication between the oversight board and Clerk of the House Lorraine Miller.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won’t consider appointing two more Republican board members until after the IG report is completed.

One House staffer familiar with the page program said an announcement on the IG report is due any day.

But there’s no word on whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has chosen an independent entity to do a promised top-to-bottom investigation on the program.

Budget Seeks to Keep Tours. A provision to maintain staff-led tours at the Capitol was included in the fiscal 2009 budget proposal submitted to Congress by President Bush on Monday.

Similar to language included in the fiscal 2008 omnibus spending package, the provision would prohibit the Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Guide Service or Congressional Special Services Office from using any appropriations to eliminate tours of the Capitol led by staffers or interns from Congressional offices.

The Capitol Police could direct tours to be temporarily suspended or altered for security reasons, but only to the same extent as Capitol tours led by the guide service, according to the provision.

The language included in the omnibus measure is set to expire at the end of fiscal 2008.

AOC officials and the Capitol Police had recommended that staff-led tours be altered once the Capitol Visitor Center opens in November. Under that plan, official guides would lead all tours, with staffers coming along if requested. Official guides are more knowledgeable about the Capitol’s history and better trained in security procedures, officials said.

But hundreds of Members protested, arguing that the staff tours provide an important way for their offices to interact with constituents.

And Improve Landscaping. The budget proposal also includes a provision authorizing the AOC to improve landscape features in “the irregular shaped grassy areas” located about one block west of the Rayburn House Office Building.

AOC officials should work with District of Columbia officials to improve the space, which is bounded by Washington Avenue Southwest, Second Street Southwest and the beginning of the I-395 tunnel.

Kids and Books. The Library of Congress is hoping to lure kids into libraries and bookstores by airing radio commercials that include a few sentences from several adolescent classics.

The idea is to leave listeners with a cliffhanger. For Jerry Spinelli’s “Maniac Magee,” a child narrator sets up the story of a roaming orphan.

Gary Paulson’s “Hatchet” gets a fast-paced narration of the plane crash that leaves its protagonist alone in the wilderness.

And for C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the voice of Prince Caspian invites listeners on his quest to claim the throne.

The advertisements are part of the LOC and Ad Council’s Lifelong Literacy campaign, which aims to attract kids to the Library’s resources through its Web site.

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