Class Cuts Worry Top Hill Aides

Posted March 20, 2009 at 6:09pm

The president of the House Chiefs of Staff Association is worried that efforts to green the Capitol are eclipsing the services that they’ve come to expect from the chamber’s Chief Administrative Officer.

The association met with Deputy CAO Ali Qureshi on Friday morning to discuss the cancellation of three popular classes at the House Learning Center: intern assistant orientation, staff assistant orientation and effective writing.

CAO officials have said they will replace the classes in the summer, but at Friday’s meeting, none of those plans were concrete, said George McElwee, president of the House Chiefs of Staff Association and top aide to Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).

“It was clear that greening the Capitol is the No. 1 priority for the 111th Congress, which is commendable,— he said. “But I do believe Member services and how best Members can represent constituents should be the No. 1 priority, and I think staff training goes hand in hand with that.—

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard decided recently to end an agreement with the nonprofit Congressional Management Foundation, which has taught the classes for about eight years.

CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said last week that the move will save the CAO about $90,000 a year. But, in a statement, he denied that the cut represents a shift in priorities, pointing out that the CAO’s office oversees many programs, “all of which are top priorities for the organization.—

It’s at least the second budget-related cut that Beard has made in recent months, including his decision to cancel a $100,000 House compensation survey.

But Beard will ostensibly be spending some money for another recent plan to move his “Green the Capitol— staff into the House Learning Center’s basement office in the Longworth House Office Building so it can be more centralized and accessible.

Parts of the learning center will be moved somewhere else to make room and that could include moving the state-of-the-art equipment used in some classes. But Ventura said the office hasn’t yet decided the costs or the new location.

“Logistical details and related costs associated with the proposed reconfiguration of various CAO Offices and staffing have not been solidified yet and are currently being evaluated,— he said in an e-mail.

House Administration ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif) has called Beard’s decision “troubling,— and chiefs of staff on both sides of the aisle have said they are worried that canceling the classes will mean their junior staffers will be less prepared for Congressional work.

Stanley White, one of the association’s board members, said Qureshi promised to relay the board’s concerns to the CAO.

He declined to comment on his own concerns — other than to say he liked the classes — but characterized the meeting Friday as friendly.

“The board had some questions about the decision to modify the CMF contract, and a representative of the CAO’s office was kind enough to meet with us,— according to White, who is chief of staff to House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.).

Ventura called the meeting “very fruitful.—

“Those in attendance from the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer plan on evaluating the feedback they received and assessing all of the various options discussed,— he said.