Doan endures political firestorm

Can she survive allegations of impropriety?

With congressional pressure mounting and an ongoing investigation creating a cloud over her leadership, many observers wonder whether General Services Administration Administrator Lurita Doan can survive.

From lawmakers requesting her resignation to the agency’s inspector general releasing another report on her contracting missteps, the controversies are starting to affect employee morale at GSA.

But Doan said the challenges are part of the process of revamping the agency. “Transformational change does not come without a few bumps, and we have made great progress in 10 months,” Doan said in a statement to Federal Computer Week. “I’m no stranger to hardship. I’m doing just fine.”

Industry observers and GSA insiders say that even if the current firestorm abates, Doan will face battle fatigue.

Doan’s problems stem, in large part, from a political presentation that White House officials made at GSA’s headquarters in January. Two Democratic senators have called for her resignation because of that incident and other alleged improper behavior.

Many in the federal information technology community are wondering whether Doan can handle the pressure. Battle fatigue takes an administrator’s attention away from the already tough job of running an agency, said Bob Woods, former commissioner of GSA’s Federal Technology Service and now president of Topside Consulting.

“It is like watching a soap opera,” said one GSA employee, who requested anonymity.

But others see a toughness in Doan that could carry her through what they view as a survivable firestorm. Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said Doan’s missteps are not serious enough to end her role as administrator. “Doan is a fighter, and she has a very firm idea of what she would like to do at GSA,” Allen said.

Regardless of people’s views on Doan, some GSA employees worry that the controversies she has generated will harm the agency if she stays. Business goes on as usual inside the agency, they say, but they would like to see GSA get out of the media spotlight.

That may not happen anytime soon. The Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether the political presentation given at GSA veered into illegal territory. Special Counsel Scott Bloch said political forecasting, which is how some have characterized the presentation, is legal unless an official uses his or her authority to influence or interfere with an election.

The office will try to determine if the presentation crossed the line, Bloch said April 27 on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” “Political forecasting is, of course, a pastime and very familiar in Washington, D.C.,” he said. But if any presentation “is slanted in the direction of getting people to either vote for a political party or candidate…then we’re into Hatch Act territory.”
Doan's political problems escalateLurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, is under increasing pressure from Congress to respond to allegations of political partisanship. In addition, the Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Doan and others violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees, including political appointees, from engaging in political activity while at work.
Here’s how the pressure is growing:

Jan. 26: White House officials give a political presentation at GSA, after which Doan allegedly asks, “How can we help our candidates?”

March 19: A GSA inspector general report implicates Doan in ethics and procurement violations.

March 28: Doan testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about political presentations at GSA and her actions related to two contracts.

April 18: Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) says in testimony before a House appropriations subcommittee that allegations against Doan could hurt GSA’s funding request in fiscal 2008.

April 23: Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) call on Doan to resign.

April 23: 25 senators send a letter to the White House asking about political presentations at federal agencies.

April 26: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sends a letter to 27 department and agency leaders seeking information about other political presentations at federal agencies.
— Matthew Weigelt


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