Ousting a Bad Bureaucrat?
Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/09/doan.jpgGSA Administrator Lurita Doan (gsa.gov)
Update: Lurita Doan announced April 29th that she will step down from her post. Here are some reasons why…
What if Alberto Gonzales were still attorney general?
The independent investigations, congressional hearings and growing media outrage seemingly doomed Gonzales. But what if he had refused to resign and President George W. Bush, who had begun working with him long ago back in Texas, had continued his support? Gonzales would now preside over a huge bureaucracy that was collectively holding its breath until Bush left the White House.
The scenario is not too hard to envision — because it’s happening right now at the General Services Administration under Administrator Lurita Doan.
In May, an Office of Special Counsel report found that Doan had violated the Hatch Act, the law that prevents federal employees from engaging in partisan politics. Investigations from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and also Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) laid out charges that she intimidated employees, awarded a no-bid contract to a friend and inappropriately interfered in approving a contract where the government was overcharged by millions of dollars.
Yet Doan still leads GSA — to the surprise and dismay of a number of congressional investigators and GSA employees. That she hasn’t resigned and the White House’s hasn’t told her to raises a broader question: What does it take before a government official leaves for the good of her agency?
“Working in the negative atmosphere that Doan’s created is hard,” said Ted Stenchey, a 28-year GSA veteran in the office of Inspector General. “Hopefully, the next 11 months will go quickly.”
Stenchey and other employees who spoke to The Washington Independent were as upset about the impact Doan has had on their day-to-day jobs as the scandals that made her a frequent target for Bush administration critics. Indeed, the scandals seem to go hand-in-hand with her unusual meddling into the work of the 12,000-employee bureaucracy.Multiple Allegations
GSA arranges about $60 billion in contracts each year that provide the government with everything from air conditioning units to automatic sprinklers. It also finds office space for agencies, hence the nickname, “the government’s landlord.” While other agencies go through the White House and Congress for funding, GSA relies on brokerage fees from agencies.
Doan came to GSA in May 2006, after starting New Technology Management, Inc., an information technology company for border surveillance that had government contracts from the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Doan came in promising an accelerated process for awarding contracts. “She’s a private entrepreneur,” said one employee, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “She wanted to increase revenues and decrease costs.”
For Doan, that meant curtailing the time and money spent by the GSA’s Office of Inspector General, which audits contracts to ensure the government is getting the best deal. Three months into her job, Doan and the GSA Inspector General Brian Miller had their regular monthly meeting.
Doan accused Miller of “terrorizing” GSA regional administrators because he was persistently requesting information about contracts. She said she wanted the Inspector General’s budget cut $5 billion, an unusual intervention by the agency head into her auditing office. She separately told GSA regional administrators in an e-mail that the Inspector General was the “No. 1 obstacle” to an effective agency.
A longtime employee of the Inspector General’s office complained last week that he does “double duty” — doing his job and then justifying his job to the rest of the agency.
Doan had specific problems with the IG’s auditing a $20,000 no-bid contract she tried to arrange with Public Affairs Group. Edie Fraser, the chief executive of that company, is an old friend of Doan’s.
GSA also renewed the government’s contract with Sun Microsystems — despite an IG’s audit had concluded Sun charged millions more to the government than to private consumers. Doan, however, pushed for the deal, replacing contract negotiators who disagreed with her.
Soon after Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) took over as chairman, the House oversight committee began investigating Doan for “overruling and removing contract negotiators” and the latest complaint from a GSA employee — that Doan may have violated the Hatch Act.
A month later, the House oversight committee held a hearing to examine a GSA brown bag lunch that would briefly, but spectacularly, make Doan a Gonzales-like target of Bush cronyism. The committee showed that Scott Jennings, the White House deputy director of political affairs, gave a power point presentation to GSA employees.
Jennings had laid out where GOP congressmen were vulnerable in 2008, and which districts they might win back. After the presentation, Doan addressed her employees, saying, “How can we help our candidates?” At the hearing, Doan said she didn’t recall making the statement — or even much of the meeting — because she had been too busy checking her Blackberry.
In June, the Office of Special Counsel released a report where more than 20 lunch attendees said Doan had not been on her Blackberry. The report also concluded Doan had violated the Hatch Act. Additionally, Doan disparaged employees who cooperated with the OSC’s investigation and told them that they wouldn’t get bonuses. OSC concluded that the White House should discipline Doan to the fullest extent.
In the wake of the OSC report, The Washington Post editorial page called Doan “troubled and troubling.” The New York Times editorialized, “Her credibility now stands as tattered as her memory. Her fate will be in President Bush’s hand, who supposedly knows a slam dunk when he sees one. Ms. Doan should be dismissed for violating one of the most hallowed laws of fairness in government service.”
The House oversight committee brought Doan back for a second hearing in June that looked into allegations that she intimated employees, and committed perjury in her first round of testimony. At the end of this hearing, Waxman concluded, “You refuse to take responsibility and you attack others for doing their jobs…[I]t is unusual for me to ever call for the resignation of a federal official, but I do not see any other course of action.”After the Scandals Hit
And so Doan returned to the private sector. No, wait, she’s still running GSA.
“We remain perplexed as to why the president would continue to allow her to serve as GSA Administrator,” said an oversight committee staff member, “when the Office of Special Counsel concluded she broke the law.”
“I’m still shocked she stayed on after the Hatch Act violation,” said a GSA employee who also requested anonymity. “The Hatch Act is there to protect me- I don’t want to be called to the auditorium for a political speech.”
The White House says that the matter is still under review. “It’s in the hands of the president and we know nothing more than that,” said James Mitchell, spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel.
Doan and her defenders have been defiant of the charges against her. The oversight committee ranking minority member, Tom Davis (R-Va.), said at the June hearing that the committee’s look into Doan is a “farce premised on a sham.” Doan herself said at the hearing she was the victim of a “culture of gotcha.”
Since the hearing Doan has kept a low profile, avoiding the press coveted earlier in her tenure. Her spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.
For GSA employees, that may be the scandal’s silver lining. “She’s been quieter and that helps,” the employee said, “It’s really scary when she says her employees are the No. 1 obstacle in her job.”
*Update: The Office of Special Counsel released a report finding that Lurita Doan had violated the Hatch Act. An earlier version of this story said The White Office of Special Counsel published this report. The Office of Special Counsel is not affiliated with the White House. We regret the error. *