Grassley plans hold on Williams nomination
- By Matthew Weigelt
- Jul 29, 2008
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) will put a hold on the nomination of Jim Williams to be administrator of the General Services Administration if the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approves Williams' nomination tomorrow, a spokeswoman for Grassley confirmed today.
"At this point, if Mr. Williams is passed out of committee, Senator Grassley plans to put a hold on the nomination," said Beth Pellett Levine, Grassley's spokeswoman.
Earlier, Grassley had opposed Williams' nomination, saying July 24 that his "concerns are based on my investigation of a dubious GSA contract with Sun Microsystems.”
“In a nutshell, all the evidence developed in my oversight investigation appears to indicate that top-level GSA management, including [former] Administrator [Lurita] Doan and [Federal Acquisition Service] Commissioner Williams, may have improperly interfered in the ongoing contract negotiations with Sun Microsystems in May to September 2006,” Grassley said.
Grassley said Doan and Williams pressured a GSA contracting officer to approve a new Sun contract, even though they both knew GSA's inspector general had detected alleged fraud and had referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“As FAS commissioner, he was the top GSA official responsible for making the tough calls, and he chose not to protect the taxpayers,” Grassley said. “He made the wrong choice. He is now accountable for that decision.” Because of that choice, Grassley said, Williams should not be GSA administrator.
The Senate committee is scheduled to consider the Williams nomination July 30.
At his confirmation hearing, Williams told the committee that he did not pressure the contracting officer. Williams said he would not tell contracting officers to accept an agreement that they didn’t consider to be in the best interest of the government. Williams also said he made it clear at a 2006 briefing that GSA should walk away from negotiations with Sun if the contracting officer could not get a good deal for the government.
“I believe that I made it perfectly clear — maybe not perfectly — I made it clear,” Williams said.
The issue regarding Sun stems from a 2004 investigation by GSA's inspector general who found that the company didn’t extend discounts it gave to other customers to the government. The resulting report suggested the government paid millions of dollars more than it should have paid as a result. GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule contracts include the Price Reduction Clause. The clause requires vendors to pass along the discounts equal to the company’s “most favored customer.”
“If [vendors] have done something to cheat the taxpayer, go after them,” Williams said.
Williams said officials have settled similar problems of dealing with Sun in the future. The company’s systems now keep track of discounts to other customers, which hadn’t been done in the past.
Some procurement experts say GSA’s issue with Sun is over.
“The great irony is that in nominating Williams, the administration is signaling an attempt to move GSA forward,” said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. “By continuing to focus on an issue long since put to bed, the senator is keeping GSA tied to its past.”
If Williams can’t be confirmed, there are many other scenarios to have him assume leadership of GSA, Allen said. For example, Williams could be named the deputy administrator — a career position — and then made acting administrator, such as David Bibb is now. Bibb has announced he will retire in September.
“GSA and FAS need to know what’s what pretty soon in order to keep distractions to a minimum and keep the agency functioning,” Allen said.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.