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The Doan hearing ... missing an opportunity

It has been more almost two weeks since the trial... er, hearing with GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, and I am still pondering what it all means...or may not mean.

I have gone back back and re-read the testimony -- several times. I also read all sorts of columns and blogs about the hearing.

I found this one particularly interesting from the Presto Vivace blog, a CJD-fav blog:

Waxman hearings miscellany

FCW's Buzz of the Week seems to have missed the point:

And the January lunch, although almost undeniably inappropriate, was not planned or approved by Doan and came months after one election and years before another.

If you think of Washington, D.C., as an ocean, then you must understand that the great political storms blow across the surface, while the civil service, their contractors and the press that covers them, inhabit the abyssal sea, far below the storm.

If you want to use federal contracts to make politicians in marginal districts look good, you have to plan months in advance. You have to know which contractors are located in which districts, and of those, which have the best connections to the politicians in question. In order to have contracts in place to puff vulnerable politicians in time to affect the election, you have to plan months in advance. The same publication which has a detailed understanding of software life cycle management, and why advanced planning is essential to good IT management, seems to have failed to understand why a political briefing for the GSA had to be held in January 2006 if it was to use government contracting to affect the 2008 election. It is simply impossible to come up with any other reason for such a meeting.

Unfortunately, I don't get it. Alice and I have had some e-mail exchanges on this subject because she has posted previously that she thinks these hearings will "on the whole these hearings and investigations will be a good thing for government contractors."

I just couldn't disagree more. I don't think that hearing was good for anybody. And I think it could have been.

I guess that was part of my frustration -- this was a missed opportunity to talk about the important issues facing government procurement right now.

There are important issues looming out there that are ripe for debate -- outsourcing, the real government procurement issues, what role does oversight play. Those issues are not all that sexy, but they are vitally important, and they are ones that are just not being addressed.

During the Doan hearing, there was a passing glance at the issue of oversight and the role of auditors and inspectors general, but even that issue got deflected in nonsensical pandering. The hearing wasn't oversight of government procurement. It was a political battle between Democrats and Republicans and Doan was an easy target.

This was political. That's fine. We all understand that government is going to be influenced...led...by politics...and that a politician's job is to be political, but I also believe that many people enter politics because they want to make government better...to help people. This hearing didn't make good government any easier.

People weren't looking for solutions. They were looking to score points — sometimes at the expense of good government.

Looking at the hearing, I continue to think the significant questions involve the potential Hatch Act violations.

After all, the $20,000 no-bid contract to a Doan friend was never awarded. One can argue that the procurement process worked. Good procurement people rightly said, "Um, you can't do this."

And the Sun contract -- this is a schedule contract. And GSA did negotiate a good price. But a schedule contract doesn't win Sun one penny. It is merely an entree to compete. And the more competition, the better.

The Hatch Act issues are more serious. No government agency should ever be used for political purposes. By most accounts, that so-called team building lunch was wrong. One lawmaker rightly asked what kind of team they were seeking to build if they were hosting White House political operatives. I frankly would have rather Doan told lawmakers that the meeting was inappropriate, and that she didn't schedule it nor did she preview the content. And she should have said that, in hindsight, the meeting should have never happened and that it will never happen again as long as she is the GSA administrator. GSA's job is to help agencies do carry out their missions more effectively and efficiently, and these issues just distract from GSA's important mission. Therefore, she should have apologized and promised that it will never happen again.

There may have been legal implications if Doan had said that ... and certainly would have been political implications for her relationship with the White House. So ... she didn't say that, of course. Instead, she says that she didn't remember. Many people don't believe her. Whatever. I don't believe in calling people liars without real evidence to support that claim.

While the Hatch Act is the most important issue, I think even that issue is relatively minor compared with the real procurement issues that are out there right now.

But just take the facts: This meeting was held months after one election and years before another. I certainly understand that there is always another election, but...really? This presentation was also given to a group of political appointees -- not career people. (It's not like you have to convince these people either to vote Republican or even help Republicans, anyway.) And finally there is zero evidence that there has been a single action by GSA to help certain pols.

Again, I am not taking anything away from the severity of Hatch Act violations. If there was any evidence of Hatch Act violations, then prosecutors should take action. After all, they are investigating, and we will likely know more when the details of the investigation are released. But based on the facts as we currently know them, there is a lot of smoke, but not a fire so far.

Unfortunately, all of this does distract from the real issues facing GSA -- and the larger procurement community. This hearing didn't even attempt to deal with these issues, which seems to be a missed opportunity.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Apr 11, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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