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The (Energetic) Ambition 

of Frank Beal

The thinking bureaucrat's sort of bureaucrat

Illinois Issues

April 1980

Interesting guy. Gov. James Thompson recruited a great many smart, able people like Beal to help him run the executive branch, especially in his first couple of terms. (I should note that I later did quite a bit of work under contract to IIER’s successor agency, the Department of Natural Resources.)


As for the disputes about alternative energy sources that Beal takes up here, they remain as pertinent, and as unresolved, as ever. Making policy is about making guesses about the future, and on energy matters Beal's guesses have proven more accurate than those of his critics.

When Gov. James R. Thompson and the Illinois General Assembly voted to create the Illinois Institute of Natural Resources (IINR) in 1978, they gave it one of the broadest, not to say most curious, mandates in the state bureaucracy. According to the legislation establishing the IINR, the new agency was to "investigate practical problems, implement studies, conduct research, and provide assistance" in the areas of environmental protection, energy, natural history, entomology, zoology, botany, geology, and natural resources. That charge put everything from prehistoric Indians to coal gasification and solar pig barns under IINR's roomy administrative umbrella.


That umbrella is held by Frank Beal. He is 40 years old, a personable and bright man from Chicago with degrees in engineering and city planning. Beal first came to state government in 1971 as the deputy director of the old Illinois Institute for Environmental Quality (IIEQ), where he worked for two years before leaving for a five-year stint at a similar post for the American Society of Planning Officials. Gov. James R. Thompson brought Beal back to the IIEQ in early 1977, but as director, and Thompson appointed him as the IINR's first director a year and a half later.


The IINR was founded to deal with those "resource issues" (such as the production of synthetic fuels from coal) which, as Beal likes to put it, spill over the accustomed bureaucratic boundaries separating economic development, energy, and the environment. It inherited the state's three scientific surveys and the Illinois State Museum from the Department of Registration and Education and the Division of Energy from the estate of the then-Department of Business and Economic Development. It also absorbed the research-minded IIEQ, which with the Pollution Control Board and the Environmental Protection Agency make up the state's troika of environmental protection agencies.


Though IINR is officially the husbander of all the state's natural resources, energy is the resource that IIlinoisans are most concerned with lately. The IINR is the state's de facto energy agency. It administers all federal energy programs, prepares energy contingency plans for the state, and runs the Coal and Energy Development Bond Fund to help finance sources of new energy, all while providing information and help to citizens, businesses, and governments who want to save more of the energy they already have.


All this makes Frank Beal the state's man on energy. It also makes what he says on the subject important. "The biggest role the state can play," he notes, "is to aid in the transition period—the transition from cheap to expensive energy, from nonrenewable fuels to renewable ones, perhaps from a petroleum-based economy to whatever it is we end up with next. People want outcomes. They want to be warm. Or they want mobility. I want safe, reliable, practical energy, and I believe that means alternative energies and conservation, which I regard as another form of alternative energy. I believe it is appropriate for state and federal governments to play this role."


The disagreements that attend IINR's energy work (and there have been several) often really are disagreements with Beal's rather utilitarian approach. "Some people see energy issues as moral issues," he points out. "I don't. I see them as political, social, economic, and institutional ones. You have to be careful not to mix your personal and your political mandates."


It is Beal's refusal to mix mandates that lies behind many of the disputes about his and his agency's role. One issue over which as much heat has been shed as light is, appropriately, solar power. The IINR's solar program has been developed as part of the 1979 revised version of the Illinois Energy Conservation Plan. The plan (which is paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy) is required by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation and the Energy Conservation and Production acts of 1975. Its purpose is to outline the ways by which Illinois during 1980 will meet the federal goal of reducing overall energy consumption in the state by five percent over 1979 levels.


The goals of the solar plan (which should not be confused with a state solar policy, which is still being formulated) are varied. They include the preparation of plans and policy statements, the training of builders and architects in the installation and design of solar technologies, the drafting of legislation providing incentives for such installation and the removal of various legal impediments to their use, and the initiation of 1,000 new solar systems in the state in 1980.


One of the key assumptions behind the program is that "the market place can adequately meet the demands for solar." This emphasis on salable technologies is part of what Beal describes as "institutionalizing" conservation and alternative energies. This the IINR would do via demonstration projects, training courses for solar installers and designers (through both union apprentice programs and vocational schools), computerized energy audits (to be conducted by utility companies) of individual homes, and so on.


Some observers, both within the IINR and from the growing solar community, quarrel with Beal's emphasis on salable technologies. Some prefer programs to disseminate solar technology (and solar financing) to individual homeowners and business people including the poor. Others argue that many of the demonstration projects proposed have already been done in other places. They further argue that big business is being allowed to dominate solar planning and that money being budgeted for testing and education might be better spent on developing new market structures and financing solar installations. In short, critics of the state's solar effort believe it is moving too slowly, or in the wrong directions, or under the guidance of the wrong people.


The dispute is more than a philosophical one, because the outcome will influence who controls access to solar technologies. Some of Beal's critics see him as being overly sanguine about the involvement in solar planning of the traditional energy suppliers which, these critics believe, have one main interest in solar—how to keep people from using it. In Beal's view, however, the debate boils down to the question of delivery, and he believes that 95 percent of Illinoisans would rather buy their solar revolution ready made than build it themselves. Beal clearly believes that most people will use solar technology only when it becomes cheaper than existing energies and not because it is cleaner or beyond the ability of large corporations to control.


"Who controls solar?" is a question of means so profound that it really is a question of ends, and debate on it is as volatile inside the IINR as it is outside, especially among solar groups and the agency's younger, more idealistic staffers who Beal dismisses privately as "do-it-yourselfers." Beal says that the IINR "has a general bias toward decentralized energy sources. I'm a sincere believer in not putting all your energy eggs in one basket." But this preference, he insists, is because decentralized sources are more practical. "If that leads to a decentralized society," Beal concludes, "that's a byproduct." This is not the first nor is it likely to be the last such conflict in the IINR. As Beal noted several months ago, one of the agency's tasks is to "do as government often does, namely internalize and resolve the conflicts" that attend Illinois's transition to its new energy future.


Though it is always risky to reduce complex arguments to concise phrases, it seems fair to say that the more radical energy thinkers see self-sufficiency as the goal of the energy revolution while Beal is content with efficiency. "Is the energy used to light one's home 'bad energy’ if it comes from a large utility company and 'good energy' if it comes from a small hydroelectric plant?" he asks. "From an energy point of view it doesn't matter, although from a social view it may. It would be a mistake to underestimate the huge ability of the large corporations to get things done."


It is sometimes difficult to tell in state government when policy shapes administration and when administration shapes policy; ideas, after all, flow through an agency only as efficiently as the paper they're printed on. There have been complaints from outside the IINR that Beal has insulated the agency from outside opinion. At the same time there have been complaints from inside the agency that internal communication is practically nonexistent, that internal policy is unclear, and that Beal is rarely seen except by his top lieutenants. There have also been more serious complaints by the press that the IINR has been lax in its use of federal funds and in the awarding of some contracts.


Some of these complaints may be explained by Beal's apparent indifference to the nuts-and-bolts side of running any agency; his critics note that he allows program personnel considerable independence. And some of the complaints may be explained simply by the fact that the IINR is so young; Beal notes that most of the agency's first year was consumed with "defining itself."


Beal's chief managerial innovation has been the imposition of a so-called "management by objective" approach which requires staff to budget time as well as money in their pursuit of specific, quantifiable objectives. For example, Objective No. 6 in the latest solar program is to publish ten fact sheets, five technical reports, 24 newspaper articles and three slide shows during 1980. It is an engineer's approach to management and reflects Beal's impatience with what he calls "lofty" goals—or in other words "unmeasurable" goals.


Whatever his skills as an administrator, Beal is acknowledged to be a talented bureaucratic strategist. He is widely credited with having the ear of the governor, although he disclaims any special influence. Indeed, the former assertion is belied somewhat by the record; for example, Thompson has vetoed most of the solar legislation that has crossed his desk in recent years. This anomaly may be explained by Beal's frank acknowledgement that there are a great many voices besides his own shouting into the governor's ear.


Besides, it doesn't take many months in Springfield for an intelligent person to learn that the prudent bureaucrat does not start fights he cannot finish. Critics have privately described that sort of prudence as caving in to special interests, but this too may simply be a difference of philosophy. "It is our responsibility to articulate energy policy for public debate," Beal says. "The policy itself is made by the governor, the General Assembly, and the Illinois Commerce Commission."


Beal is also sometimes accused of being an empire-builder. About that he says, "Am I ambitious? Yes. Why should I apologize for being ambitious? Am I an empire-builder? No. I have more work than I can do now. I would oppose any attempts to expand the agency."


The controversies that plague energy policy-making in Illinois will not subside. "We are in the midst of a very dynamic period in which we are changing the way we think about a very basic subject," Beal explains. "We only just now have developed a vocabulary we can use to talk about these things. Most of what we're doing today is catch-up. What things will look in the future it is impossible to say. None of the old assumptions are valid anymore. The societal questions about energy have not been sorted out yet. That's not our role. The General Assembly did not give me a mandate to use energy to change society toward some visionary future." ●




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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