Despite the controversy surrounding her, the GSA administrator’s main goal should be leaving the agency better than she found it.
There are situations in which you can win battles but lose the war. That may be the best context for understanding the challenge facing Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration.
Doan has been called to testify before Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to answer a growing list of allegations against her. Doan said she is looking forward to the opportunity. It will be an interesting milestone in her short tenure as GSA’s leader.
Doan has been a paradox. She took the post in May 2006 amid high hopes and high expectations. Doan is the first woman to lead the agency, and she seems tailor-made for the job. She has experience with government procurement, having been an executive in her own small business. Doan also understands the effect that technology can have on the ability of agencies to carry out their missions. She has a technology background.
Doan has leadership credentials, and GSA needs a leader. Under former administrator Stephen Perry, GSA had been rudderless. It faced numerous problems that Perry appeared to have little interest in solving. People found Doan’s often-brash style a breath of fresh air. She made decisions, and she came into the job proclaiming her love for GSA and the work that it does. She vowed to return GSA to its position as the federal government’s preeminent procurement organization. She seemed poised to make decisions that could make that happen.
Now Doan has a more difficult challenge ahead of her because the story is now about her, not GSA.
When Doan appears before Waxman, she may be able to address the allegations lined up against her. That would be a good and important first step, but it would not be enough. If all she does on March 20 is answer the allegations, she might win the battles, but her more ambitious goal — helping GSA get back on its feet — would be lost. [Editor's note: After press time, the hearing was postponed; no new date has been set.]
Doan’s most important task now is to leave GSA better off than when she joined the organization.
We believe that the work GSA does is important, but true success will come with results. It is time for GSA to focus on agencies’ procurement needs. We hope Doan can move her personal issues off the front burner because they are a distraction to the important job GSA has to do.
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