Despite scandals, work on admin panel praised

In the wake of the decision by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) to resign temporarily as chairman of the House Administration Committee, those who worked with him on the panel are widely praising his work.

During the summer of 2005, Ney held several hearings regarding the May 2005 evacuation of the office buildings and the safety of people with disabilities after an emergency evacuation of the Capitol and the congressional office buildings revealed problems in the system.

Hilary Styron, director of the Emergency Preparedness Initiative for the National Organization on Disability, said she was confident Ney’s work would continue regardless of who chaired the committee.

“I believe Ney remains a strong supporter of disability issues, as is the ranking member,” Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), he said. “I believe that disability preparedness remain on the agenda ... regardless of who chairs the [committee].”

“It is my hope that the leadership and legacy that Chairman Ney showed in disability issues remains intact so that the Hill and House office buildings are safe for everyone,” she added.

Ney also received praise last summer from Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I) for going “above and beyond” any of his requests for accommodation for his wheelchair.

As a result of the hearings, flags and displays in the hallways of the House office buildings were mounted on the walls to create clear exits and avoid obstructing hallways for those evacuating the buildings.

Ney’s staff also met with advocates for people with disabilities several times after the hearings to continue to get their input on issues confronting the House office buildings.

Dennis Roth, the president of the Congressional Research Employee Association, who has been pushing for hearings regarding the termination of more than 50 Congressional Research Service employees, agreed that committee business would continue as usual. He indicated that the committee had expressed interest in the layoffs but did not pursue the issue as Ney’s problems continued to mount.

“Chairman Ney stepping down should not have any impact on whether there are hearings,” Roth said.

In a statement yesterday, Millender-McDonald pledged to continue the work she and Ney started in the committee.

“I received a courtesy call from Chairman Ney informing me of his decision to temporarily step down from his position as chairman,” Millender-McDonald said. “I respect his decision and wished him and his family well in the days ahead.”

Ney has held the top position on the Administration Committee for the past five years after taking over from Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). In addition to supervising the care and safety of the House office buildings, the committee is charged with tasks such as monitoring the “raising, reporting and use of campaign contributions for candidates for office of representative, of delegate and of resident commissioner,” according to the committee website.

Ney’s position as the chairman is particularly problematic for the conference at a time when leaders have agreed to push a reform of the nation’s lobbying laws.

Ney announced Sunday that he would temporarily step down as chairman of the House Administration Committee — less than two weeks after former lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s plea bargain with federal prosecutors.

“Once these false allegations have been put to rest, and I have the full confidence that they will be, I look forward to resuming the chair for the rest of my appointed term and continuing the important work of the committee,” he said.

Abramoff’s plea agreement refers to Ney as the “Representative #1” singled out in a Justice Department inquiry, and Ney could face an indictment in the coming weeks. GOP members have recently been calling for Ney to step down as chairman, according to a well-placed GOP source.

“This is not a partisan committee,” Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said. “The congressman has never treated it like that, and its many achievements are reflective of that commitment.”

There was no indication who will replace Ney as of press time. When asked when and how Ney will be replaced, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) told The Hill only that: “We will do it by the regular rules.”

Unlike other committees, whose chairmen are chosen by the GOP Steering Committee, the Speaker alone has the duty of appointing the chairman of the administration panel; however, as of press time, the proper protocol was unclear if the chairman of the committee steps down.

A Hastert spokesman did not return calls for comment.