Chiefs of Staff Air Frustration With Dan Beard

Posted May 25, 2010 at 6:10pm

Both Republican and Democratic chiefs of staff are becoming increasingly frustrated with House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, with tensions rising to a new level last week during a meeting between Beard and the House Chiefs of Staff Association.

The Thursday meeting was meant to ease the worries of the association, which has complained for more than a year that Beard has not kept the association in the loop about changes to services and programs that affect staffers. Instead, Beard was “combative” and indifferent to the group’s concerns, according to both Republican and Democratic staffers who attended the meeting.

Beard began the meeting by complaining about the association’s comments to the media and to the House Administration Committee, staffers said.

“I know I’m going to see this in the paper tomorrow,” he said, according to several staffers.

In particular, Beard berated the association for a letter President George McElwee sent to the committee in April, expressing the group’s concerns about the high turnover in the CAO’s finance office and Beard’s refusal to discuss the matter. The letter was brought up at the committee’s recent oversight hearing, prompting ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) to chide Beard for not being open to the association’s concerns.

Staffers said Beard was equally contentious in the meeting as the association laid out its concerns about everything from the recent defacement of Members’ websites to the possible cancellation of orientation classes for interns and staff assistants.

But on Tuesday, Beard’s office characterized the meetings as a healthy debate.

“Dan thought the meeting was exceedingly fruitful and full of spirited, constructive dialogue,” CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said in an e-mail. “We hope to continue such positive discussions going forward.”

The Chiefs of Staff Association declined to comment for this article. But some staffers present said Beard’s attitude was off-putting; one called his behavior “belligerent.”

The meeting came less than a month after the House Administration Committee’s oversight hearing, where Members brought up some of the same concerns that the association has aired. Among them is the decision to cancel the Congressional Management Foundation’s orientation classes for interns and staff assistants and instead assign CAO employees to teach them. Ventura said the move saves taxpayers money; furthermore, he said, CMF still has a $30,000 contract to teach writing constituent mail.

But CMF’s orientation classes are well-liked by chiefs of staff, who send junior staffers to learn the basics of working in a Congressional office. CMF, a nonpartisan nonprofit that aims to make Congress more efficient, is a long-standing resource that is trusted among staffers. When Beard decided to cancel the orientation classes last year, he got an almost immediate backlash and temporarily reversed the decision.

But several chiefs of staff said they weren’t consulted before Beard canceled CMF’s classes again this year. Several said they are bothered by the fact that they haven’t been kept in the loop about such changes, especially because they are the ones most affected by them.

At last week’s meeting, association members brought the concern up; Beard reportedly asked them to admit they were just there to “get an earmark” for CMF.

One Democratic chief of staff said he was puzzled by Beard’s unwillingness to get feedback.

“It may very well be that the CAO’s plan works,” he said. “But why not discuss them with the users?”

Last week’s meeting did result in a promise from Beard to schedule more meetings with the group, and in a statement Tuesday, House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) reiterated his desire for Member offices to be included in discussions.

“Chairman Brady is committed to ensuring that Member Offices have the tools and resources they need to best support and represent their constituents,” spokesman Kyle Anderson said in an e-mail. “We encourage ongoing dialogue aimed at ensuring that the administrative functions of the House are properly aligned in a manner that is consistent with the needs of our Member Offices.”