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Why Doan leads FCW.com's e-mail newsletter -- again

If you get FCW.com's daily e-mail newsletter, you may notice that...Yes, the Lurita Doan saga leads today's newsletter -- again.

Frankly, there was something of a debate among us about whether it should. I have a definite sense that Doan fatigue is setting in. ('Another Doan story,' one person said down here at Management of Change.)

We put it at the top of the e-mail newsletter mostly out of fairness. Frankly, that top spot is important because it determines the subject line that appears in your e-mail inbox, which is one of the factors that helps determine whether you open it or not. It's OK to admit it. I'm sure you, like me, get a ton o' e-mail, and while I hope the FCW.com e-mail newsletter is one of your must-reads, just as we hope Federal Computer Week magazine is, we understand you have a lot of data coming at you every day. So we spend some time each day trying to think of what story will be the most encouraging for you to open and read that e-mail. And that is an art, not a science. Some days it is simple. Yesterday, it was not.

In the end, we decided to make Doan's attorney's rebuttal to the Office of Special Council finding that she had violated the Hatch Act for one simple reason: It is only fair. Last week, when the Hatch Act finding leaked out, we all trumpeted the finding, and all too often, the denial or the acquittal is buried in the back pages. We convict on page one, and acquit with a brief in the back pages. So, yes, the Doan response was reported in the WP on Saturday -- a one column story buried on page A4 -- but I believe we need to be fair.

Frankly, in FCW's story today, we posted the original OSC report...and not Doan's response. Again, that seems unfair to me. OSC got their chance. Doan deserves to present her case in her own words. So I have pulled it from that story. (I have since removed the link to the OSC report from today's story. Very soon, you'll find a link to Doan's response, so you can read it for yourself. And you can still find the link on the original story about the OSC report, which is a 'related link' in today's story.)

Meanwhile, the following is the executive summary from Doan's response:

When the record is examined in an objective, impartial and, fair manner, it is clear that the conclusions of the OSC report are far off the mark and are based on tenuous inferences and careless leaps of logic. It also is evident that the report uses inflammatory and conclusory rhetoric to disparage Administrator Doan and to mask the deficiencies in its arguments. Upon closer examination, one is hard-pressed to conclude that the Administrator solicited or induced her employees to engage in any political activity. Similarly, the evidence that Administrator Doan sought to employ the "machinery of a government agencj' for political reasons also is deficient. Nor does the report provide any evidence of how the follow-up discussion at the meeting -- apparently prompted by Administrator Doan's alleged question -- was connected in any way to any election or any candidate for office. Indeed, the only reference to specific, future election campaigns occurred during the formal presentation by the White House representative. If anything, it was that briefing, which OSC concedes Administrator Doan had no role in preparing or arranging, that may have violated the Hatch Act. However, rather than focusing on that presentation -- which on its face raises Hatch Act concerns -- the OSC has aimed its ire on a single comment the phrasing of which is disputed even among those who remember it being made at all.

As detailed below, the objectivity, impartiality, and fairness of this report is seriously in question. This is a harsh report, clearly visceral in tone. The report goes out of its way to disparage Administrator Doan -- in some instances gratuitously -- by the selective use of her testimony and other evidence. The report inexplicably and unfairly omits clearly relevant portions of Ms. Doan's testimony that is not disputed and easily could be corroborated. In an almost desperate effort to support a questionable conclusion based on insufficient evidence, the report relies on extraordinary exaggerations and inferences. This case is one of exceptional seriousness for Administrator Doan and it has not been examined with the objectivity, impartiality, and fairness such matters demand. Finally, before proceedinq with our substantive response, we must reiterate our extreme disappointment and outrage that the confidentiality of the report was not maintained until at the very least Administrator Doan had an opportunity to respond. We have detailed our very serious concerns about the leak of the draft and final versions of the report in our correspondence exchange with you, copies of which are included as Attachments 1-4. The premature release of this damaging information has been extraordinarily unfair to Administrator Doan, has seriously compromised the integrity of the process to the prejudice of the Administrator, and has only aggravated the lack of objectivity, impartiality, and fairness evident in the report. We request that you investigate this premature release immediately, if you have not done so already, and that you take appropriate disciplinary action against those responsible.


I should also note that I did get a call from GSA officials critiquing FCW's editorial this week, Stating the obvious, which says we all believe that the business of government should not be used for partisan political purposes.

This is the particular part that they didn't like, I believe:

Unfortunately, Doan's troubles could have turned into an opportunity to highlight the importance of the Hatch Act and the nonpartisan nature of government business. Equally unfortunately, Doan has decided to launch a quixotic fight, which only tarnishes GSA and the important work the agency does.

There are many honorable wars worth waging. This is not one of them. Instead, let's use Doan's troubles as an opportunity to reassert that the purpose of government agencies is to do the people's business.


My assessment is that GSA officials do not believe this is a quixotic fight. Rather, they see it as all part of the same battle, as she told columnist Robert Novak.

This is a cautionary tale about Washington, where well-motivated people can find themselves sinking into a political cesspool -- especially at the end of an eight-year administration. With the GSA's 13,000 employees and $56 billion in annual contracts (to construct and maintain federal buildings), Doan was naive in thinking it enough to institute businesslike procedures. "Ever since I made the decision to restore fiscal discipline to all divisions within GSA," she has said, "I have had to face a series of personal attacks and charges."


I don't believe this is some conspiracy of a cabal fighting against the administrator. To be very frank, I think that is paranoia and allowing personal matters define the issues. I don't think that is good leadership.

This is just not a fight worth fighting. The public is very forgiving and they will tolerate mistakes. They have busy lives, so they understand meetings where one doesn't pay attention. What they do not understand is fighting a fight that simply cannot be justified.

Again -- if you must think of it in terms of a war, the goal is to win the war. One does not win every battle. Some are just not worth winning. This January meeting should not have happened -- at GSA or any other agency. Period. Why defend it?

GSA has many issues. Personally, I think GSA's number one issue right now is that its customers don't believe GSA people are the procurement go-to people. FAS Commission Jim Williams is working on that issue and has made progress, but having the administrator out there speaking -- and widely associated with customer service (anybody remember Dave Barram?) would make a huge difference.

Doan has an issue with the agency's IG. We all know that. OK -- there is a real debate that should be had about the role of oversight in government procurement. Kelman is doing that, I think. There are various sides. Let's debate it and hash it out. It isn't personal. It isn't vindictive. It is policy. But the Hatch Act issue is a just a distraction.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jun 05, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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