Fox: Doan picked a good fight

As administrator of the General Services Administration, Lurita Doan left behind a legacy that could cause ripples in the government pond for years. That legacy can be summarized in a question: Will inspectors general continue their current abuse of authority to the detriment of good government?

Others might debate how well Doan performed her job at GSA. There’s nothing wrong with that debate, but sometimes a good measure of performance is one important achievement rather than many small achievements.

It does not matter whether Doan started the IG debate or handled it well.

The important thing she did was battle IG arrogance. She fought a trend in which IGs have usurped authority that rightfully belongs to agency leaders.

Meanwhile, others who could have helped her in that battle stood by idly.

IGs have become a threat to good government by deterring innovation, causing agencies to institutionalize inefficiencies and interfering with their core missions. IGs have shown again and again how they can get their way by public arm-twisting and underhanded tactics.

There was little doubt that Doan was out there on her own on the IG issue. For that, at least, she deserves credit.

With Doan gone, should we chalk up another setback for good government at the hands of IGs while their efforts to usurp authority from agencies’ legitimate leaders continue unabated?

One thing is certain: IGs took some blows in this public battle. Their tactics were exposed, and their abuse of power sent a shockwave through the government.

Some people who had backed IGs began to have doubts. Other agencies, such as the CIA, began to push back on their own IGs. That is a start.

Proper oversight of IGs is necessary, which was Doan’s point.

Reasonable people understand the need for balance. But that balance has been lost.
There are lessons for federal agencies in Doan’s IG fight. Authority must not be ceded to the IG’s office. Its staff members have advisory authority. Their job is to advise officials who have real authority.

IGs’ quest for power — rather than any particular issue requiring redress — was at issue at GSA.
Doan took on the IGs who would usurp her legitimate authority. Many others who agree with her position on IGs did not.

For the short term, the IGs appear to have won the battle. But could this victory have come at a cost?
Doan’s legacy might well be that of taking a stand on an important issue for which she should be thanked for doing a public service.

Fox (nfox@usa.com) is former assistant commissioner of acquisition at the General Services Administration. He now manages Neal Fox Consulting (www.nealfoxconsulting.com).

About the Author

Neil Fox is the former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, and is now principal at Neal Fox Consulting.

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