Construction Lobbyist Plays Lead Role at Labor Department

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By Ben Penn

Geoff Burr, a former construction industry lobbyist, is guiding the Labor Department’s political regime change in preparation for a likely job as the next secretary’s chief of staff, sources tell Bloomberg BNA.

The veteran of the Associated Builders and Contractors and George W. Bush’s DOL started working with the department’s “beachhead” team of political appointees on Jan. 20, Jillian Rogers, a DOL spokeswoman, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 7.

Other sources familiar with the process said Burr will likely be named chief of staff if Andrew Puzder is confirmed as labor secretary. Chief of staff is considered one of the most influential positions in the agency, with the power to push policy, handle managerial operations and facilitate the secretary’s stakeholder outreach.

Burr held several roles at ABC from 2001 to 2015, minus a two-year absence from 2006 to 2008 when he was the DOL’s assistant secretary for congressional affairs.

In addition to his beachhead position, Burr is considered Puzder’s “sherpa,” helping the fast-food executive gain familiarity with the DOL and Capitol Hill in preparation for his Senate hearing. The Senate has postponed Puzder’s committee hearing four times, amid delays in his ethics paperwork (see related story).

Burr Could Offset Lack of Labor Secretary

The 30-member beachhead team may benefit from someone with advanced Capitol Hill and DOL experience, as they set the agency’s new political agenda and reconsider recent regulations. The agency is faced with major decisions on a slew of 2016 final rules, such as the fiduciary and overtime regulations.

But with Puzder’s hearing not even on the calendar, the department will likely be operating without oversight from a confirmed leader and assistant secretaries for months.

”The hearing delay has really prevented the administration to get going,” Michael Lotito, co-chair of Littler Mendelson’s Workplace Policy Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 7. Burr’s involvement shows “there needed to be an adult there to at least keep these balls up in the air, if not try to get them to land.” Lotito’s firm has represented Puzder’s company CKE Restaurants Inc.

“Geoff is playing a valuable role in supporting Mr. Puzder as he moves through the confirmation process,” George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder, told Bloomberg BNA in an email Feb. 7. Thompson declined to comment on Burr’s future role in the administration.

Puzder is chief executive officer of CKE, the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. brands. He’s never served in government.

Construction Union Showdown

Burr’s construction-focused labor experience would inform a new labor secretary’s position on the president’s infrastructure plan. His management-side emphasis may also create some tension for construction union leaders that have supported Donald Trump.

At ABC, Burr advocated against the Davis-Bacon Act’s prevailing wage requirements for government contracts.

ABC also lobbies against project labor agreements, preferring an open bidding process on federal projects without requiring a collective bargaining agreement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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