Capitol sustainability effort moves to architect's office

Story updated at 10 a.m. EDT on Aug. 5 to include comment from Rep. Nancy Pelosi's office.

Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers and House Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Strodel have decided that the architect's office should take the lead in promoting sustainability efforts across the U.S. Capitol complex.

The move is being touted as a way to consolidate and improve efficiencies in the effort to reduce energy consumption across Capitol Hill.

The two congressional officers announced the agreement today in a joint statement that comes as something of a final chapter on the "Green the Capitol" program, which became a bone of contention among congressional leaders after it was first proposed by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2007.

Pelosi jump-started the chief administrative officer's involvement in a Congresswide effort to become an example of energy efficiency by tasking her hand-picked CAO, Daniel Beard, with carrying out the Green the Capitol program. But during his three-year tenure, several of Beard's high-profile initiatives drew the ire of congressional Republicans.


Among other things, Republicans attacked Beard for spending $90,000 on carbon offsets, appropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars on compostable cafeteria supplies and diverting money from some popular programs to pay for the Green the Capitol office. Some questioned whether Beard -- a former staffer for a Democratic congressman who earned an appointment to the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 1990s -- was politicizing some of the work of the nonpartisan CAO office.

Beard eventually announced his resignation last summer after a House inspector general report criticized his office's financial divisions for low morale and miscommunication. Strodel, who has spent 25 years serving in various nonpartisan offices in the House, took over the job last year.

Strodel continued to promote sustainability efforts on Capitol Hill but did it without the publicity campaigns that had caused such a stir under Beard. But with today's announcement, Strodel is turning over a variety of programs to the architect of the Capitol (AOC), including the "Power to Save" educational program.

Strodel's office will still be involved in sustainability efforts as they affect various aspects of CAO's work, including procurement and information technology efforts in the House.

One House official with knowledge of the new transition said that moving the sustainability program into the AOC's office "puts it where it rightfully belongs."

The move not only makes financial sense for CAO, which has seen its budget cut by nearly $15 million since 2010, but also places the program within the office that is best able to do the job, the official said.

"The AOC is already doing it and has the federal mandates when it comes to energy reduction" targets, the official said. "Let's not go through and cherry-pick what the House does and have [CAO create] its own initiatives, many of which have failed."

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said he welcomed the move while also touting the success of the Green the Capitol program.

“While the initiative has enjoyed bipartisan participation and models the efforts taken by many in the private sector, many Republican Members have chosen to demagogue the issue; the Green the Capitol initiative has been a successful sustainability effort that has saved taxpayer money, cut energy usage, and reduced waste,” Hammill said. “Working closely with the Green the Capitol initiative, Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers has taken bold steps to apply the progress made by the House to the entire Capitol complex. “

In 2010, AOC installed 30,000 energy-efficient light fixtures and converted 2,700 bathroom fixtures to automatic, low-flow units. According to today's release, those efforts helped achieve a 17 percent energy reduction and a 23.3 percent reduction in water consumption in House office buildings last year.

"Working with the AOC, our staff put together a blueprint that we've used to save energy on the House side of the Capitol," Strodel said in a release today. "Now it's time to hand this initiative over to the Architect to incorporate sustainable practices across the Capitol complex to realize even greater savings."

Despite facing his own deep budget cuts, Ayers welcomed the change.

"Saving energy saves money and consolidating our sustainability programs helps save taxpayer dollars by improving efficiencies and allows us to make smart and sound investments throughout the Capitol complex," Ayers said in today's release. "This greatly improves our return on investment in Congressional facilities by continuing to include sustainability in our long-range project planning."

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