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CAO Hearing Likely to Put Focus on Benefits

With budget numbers as its ultimate focus, a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting today is likely to center its discussion on issues that directly effect the people who work in the House, including increasing health benefits and child care services.

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard will testify before the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch today on his budget request for fiscal 2008. The $1.2 million request covers items not handled by a specific committee or office, with most of the money covering salaries and other expenses of the leadership offices of both parties and officers such as the Clerk, CAO, Parliamentarian, Chaplain and general counsel.

“I think one of the challenges we’ve had is that we’re really in a flatline budget environment, and I think the Members want to know if we can cope with that,” said Beard, who functions as the chamber’s top administrative official.

But there also are a number of specific initiatives Beard has been put in charge of since becoming the CAO earlier this year that subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and other panel members could ask about today.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have asked Beard to study ways the Congressional campus can become more environmentally friendly, for example.

Among the options being considered: decreasing the amount of paper offices use and minimizing energy costs in Congressional office buildings.

Appropriators likely will ask “where we are with the review, and if there are any implications in what it is we are looking at,” Beard said.

The duo also asked Beard to study ways to expand services at the House Child Care Center, located in the Ford Office Building. The center provides day-care services to employees of the House, but its capacity is limited.

“There are 75 families being served by the day-care center,” Beard said. “And there are 78 on the waiting list.”

Improving the child care center was a major goal Beard identified when he first took the job, and his office has spent the past few weeks reviewing various options for increasing capacity.

Beard added that he already has spoken with Wasserman Schultz about the situation, partly because she has a link to child care.

“She has three little kids,” he said.

Employee benefits also could come up at the hearing, Beard said. Turnover rates are high in the House, mostly for entry-level positions, in part because the House does not offer the same perks as private-sector companies.

“It’s partly because we don’t pay well, and working conditions are a challenge,” Beard said. “We can’t do much about pay, and we can’t do much about space, but I can look at things like benefits, and I want to do that.”

The House currently does not offer employees things such as tuition reimbursement and transit benefits, Beard said, adding that disability, dental and eye care benefits also aren’t as good compared with private-sector jobs, but these are areas that could be addressed.

“There’s always more you can do on the benefits side,” he added.

Panel members also are likely to ask about business continuity in the chamber, Beard said, explaining that Members want to know that if some sort of major disaster were to take place on the Capitol grounds, key legislative functions could continue.

“A lot of effort has been made to improve the business continuity issues, with respect to the House of Representatives and all the offices,” Beard said. “That is always an issue that comes up.”

A veteran of the House, Senate and private-sector, government-related organizations, Beard last appeared before a budget panel more than a decade ago, he said. But he added that he is excited to testify once again.

“I’m having a terrific time. … The leadership on both sides has been very supportive,” he said.

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