In Wake of Lawsuit, CAO Seeks Diversity Assessment

Posted November 13, 2009 at 5:45pm

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard is commissioning the first-ever diversity assessment of his 650-employee office, seeking a “nationally recognized diversity consultant— to review the office’s culture and make recommendations for improvements.

His decision comes in the wake of a September lawsuit alleging discrimination amid the office’s reorganization. Since Beard became the House’s CAO in 2007, he has aimed to make the office — which handles everything from the House’s paychecks to cafeterias — more streamlined and efficient.

The response has been mixed; some praise his initiative, and others claim the shuffling has reflected a mix-up of priorities. The office’s former budget director filed a discrimination lawsuit against Beard in September, claiming she was fired during the reorganization because she is an African-American woman.

The impetus for the diversity survey is unclear; Beard declined an interview request and CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura released a statement only citing the office’s commitment to “a diverse workplace.—

“To that end, [the CAO’s office] has decided to have a third-party consultant perform a comprehensive assessment of our organization’s culture and policies to ensure they represent the best practices of an inclusive work environment,— Ventura wrote in an e-mail.

But in an announcement to employees about the survey, Beard refers to a two-year organizational “refocus— aimed at making the office more “sustainable, efficient and responsive.—

“Our organizational improvements have resulted in many changes, and change is never easy,— he wrote in the e-mail. “To change the direction of any organization requires careful examination of how that change impacts not only the productivity and efficacy of an organization, but also how it affects employee morale and the general spirit of fairness and equity we all hold in high regard.—

Former CAO budget director LaTaunya Howard details these changes in her lawsuit, describing a reshuffling of the top positions and the elimination of some positions. She also refers to an internal investigation in 2007 that found evidence of racial pay discrimination; according to Howard, the investigation revealed that most employees who received pay raises in June 2007 were white.

The upcoming diversity assessment will be the office’s first formal study on diversity. Beard first posted a solicitation on Oct. 28, and responses are due Wednesday. Organizations interested in the job are based throughout the nation, ranging from HGM Management and Technologies in Washington, D.C., to Perfect People Solutions in Plano, Texas, according to the CAO’s solicitation notice on fbo.gov.

The CAO’s office has not released the budget or timeline for the project, which will focus only on CAO employees. But it could provide information for Beard’s office that the House as a whole now lacks.

The CAO has long commissioned a survey every Congress that provided basic information about the diversity of the House, but such information hasn’t been collected since 2004. That survey revealed that almost 90 percent of chiefs of staff were white.

A 2006 report included only salary and benefit information, while Beard canceled the 2008 version because of “budgetary constraints.— Instead, he paid consulting group ICF Inc. about $25,000 for the work already done; a completed version would probably have cost about $100,000.

Ventura said Beard is now reviewing the survey, though he declined to provide any details on the new timeline for the project.

“The compensation study is being reviewed and there is no scheduled release date yet for the report,— he wrote in an e-mail. “It does contain some information that could be categorized as ‘diversity’ data.—