Williams GSA nomination blocked; options weighed

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) put an unexpected brake on Jim Williams’ path to head the General Services Administration last week, but the Bush administration does have some options to get around it, according to observers.

One scenario is a recess appointment. Congress usually adjourns for August, giving President Bush the ability to appoint Williams without Senate confirmation, said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

However, recess appointments are temporary and the senators would probably continue considering the nomination when they return to Washington.

Also, the Senate has stayed in pro forma session during recent breaks, blocking the president from making such moves.

Even so, “there are all sorts of scenarios to think out if there is no recess,” Allen said. For example, Williams could be appointed as GSA’s deputy administrator and then be made acting administrator. David Bibb, currently the acting administrator, plans to retire in September, which would leave the job open.

“Not perfect, but good enough,” Allen said.

Grassley put the hold on Williams’ nomination because of Williams’ role in controversial contract renegotiations with Sun Microsystems last year. Grassley and the GSA’s inspector general have charged that the company didn’t give the government the same discounts it gave to other customers, as required by the GSA Multiple Award Schedules contract.

However the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the Williams’ nomination last week. Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he was satisfied with the nominee’s answers regarding the Sun controversy and called Williams an outstanding candidate for the position.

Grassley said Williams must be held accountable for his decisions in the Sun negotiations, not rewarded with promotion to the administrator’s office at GSA.

Once Bibb retires, GSA will be in dire need of a leader, Allen said. “Holds ultimately do more damage to the ability of an agency to operate efficiently than they do to an individual nominee,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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