Dan Beard: Is He Proactive or Pro-Democrats?

Posted June 2, 2009 at 6:30pm

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard sees himself as a change agent, a leader who has the resolve and the ideas to improve the way that his office handles the chamber’s cafeterias, paychecks, computer systems, finances and overall operations.

“I have strongly questioned everything that we do and why do we do it and do we need to continue to do it,— Beard said in a recent interview.

His critics view it differently. Since Beard took over as the CAO in 2007, he has weathered a steady stream of criticism for his alleged partisanship, experimental greening initiatives and outspoken demeanor.

His controversial persona contrasts starkly with that of his predecessor, Jay Eagen. Where Eagen was absent from the public eye, Beard is talkative and media-friendly. Under Eagen, the CAO’s office never had its own Web site; Beard has hired several communications staffers and constantly updates cao.house.gov.

Beard was chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (and confirmed by the House) and refers to the California Democrat as “the boss.— Eagen was a bipartisan choice who took many of his instructions from the House Administration Committee.

That last contrast is often repeated by Republican critics.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who in 2007 served as ranking member of the House Administration Committee, voiced concerns then that Beard would “owe his allegiance to only one person — that is the Speaker of the House.— And several Republicans worried that Beard’s past as a Democratic staffer would taint the nonpartisan position.

Whether that fear has come to fruition is a matter of debate.

Democrats describe Beard as “inclusive— and “proactive.— But some Republicans question whether his dedication to Pelosi’s Green the Capitol Initiative has affected his ability to fulfill his core mission of operating the House.

Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), the top Republican on House Administration, pointed to Beard’s decision to cancel a biannual survey on staffer compensation and cut popular classes at the House Learning Center because of “budget constraints.— Beard reversed both decisions after backlash from staffers and Members.

Pelosi’s unilateral selection of Beard, Lungren said, “was almost an indication to us that things were going to be different.—

“I understand that greening the Capitol is important to the Speaker and important to the CAO at her direction. I’m not saying don’t do that,— Lungren said. But services such as the survey and learning center “are essentials. If you don’t have these things, you don’t have the essence of what you do.—

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, has also confronted Beard about complaints that he hasn’t communicated well enough with staffers before making decisions affecting them.

Beard said he lets staffers know of his actions through numerous “Dear Colleague— letters and updates to the House intranet. But he also said he can’t consult all 7,000 House employees before making decisions.

“Everybody has an opinion here and ultimately somebody has to say, Well, we’re gonna do this,’— he said. “And if there’s enough people who feel otherwise, generally we’ll change it down the road.—

In a recent interview, Wasserman Schultz said she is confident Beard is working to communicate with staffers more. Though poor communication was a “legitimate criticism,— she said Beard is “really very forward-thinking on the needs of House employees.—

“If he’s a little more high profile, I think he’s running a very professional organization,— she said. “The Speaker appointed him, and we elected him as administrative officer. It certainly doesn’t offend me.—

In fact, Beard’s role in some ways mirrors that of the first-ever CAO, Scot Faulkner.

Like Beard, Faulkner was selected by the Speaker, then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Taking over for the director of non-legislative and financial affairs — a largely bureaucratic and invisible position — Faulkner made sweeping changes.

He implemented mass layoffs of long-term House employees, overhauled the chamber’s financial management system, upgraded Internet services and cut costs by contracting out some services.

But with praise for his successes came criticism for bills paid late and projects running over budget. Faulkner also hired former GOP officials to serve as House administrators.

Less than two years after he was hired, Faulkner was forced out. Gingrich, under criticism from Democrats and Republicans, put oversight of the CAO under House committees and the position largely receded from public view.

But Pelosi’s Green the Capitol Initiative has brought it back into the spotlight. Under Beard, the CAO’s office has bought wind energy, introduced composting to House cafeterias, increased recycling, installed energy-efficient light bulbs and implemented dozens of other greening initiatives.

Appropriators increased the office’s budget by $2 million to pay for the greening efforts, but critics inevitably bring up the Green the Capitol Initiative when any other program or service is cut. Any expenditure for greening the Capitol is seen as money that could have been used for services that were cut or took longer to implement.

Sometimes, the contrast is apparent: Recently, Beard told Members that he was considering moving the House Learning Center out of the Longworth House Office Building to make room for his Green the Capitol staff. To some, that symbolized the CAO considered greening more important than staffer training.

In fact, Beard said he is questioning the need for the CAO’s office to offer classes to staffers. For six months, he said, his office will investigate whether the courses are worthwhile. Right now, the learning center offers everything from intern training to courses on how to stop smoking.

“Suddenly we’re in the education business, and I walk in the door and say, Why?’ and nobody can give me a good explanation,— Beard said. “Why are we doing this instead of the Library of Congress or the Department of Agriculture or the Congressional Research Service or any other organization?—

Beard refers to himself as a “creative manager— who challenges the “conventional ways of doing things.— Greening isn’t the only new initiative that his office deals with, he said; it also is constantly handling and maintaining new technologies.

But he conceded that the greening efforts take up resources that otherwise could be spent elsewhere.

“The short answer is if you start a new initiative like that, you usually stop doing something else or you phase down something else or you approach something a little bit different,— he said. “And that’s why I think it’s the right thing to do for us to constantly question what we do and why we do it so that we are making sure that the services that we provide and the work that we do is contemporary to the needs of the institution.—

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said Beard has made more changes in the past two years than any similar administrator has made in the past two decades. Lofgren, an environmental advocate, ticked off a list of greening initiatives that Beard has implemented, from sealing ventilation ducts to using environmentally friendly paint.

She brushed off any criticism of Beard’s efforts as an unavoidable aspect of Congress.

“I don’t think he’s got a very thin skin,— said Lofgren, who is the co-sponsor of a bill instructing Beard to do demonstration projects for energy-efficient technology. “His mission is to green the Capitol so that’s what he’s doing. The nature of the political world is people pick at each other.—