Lurita Doan took over as the head of the General Services Administration, the
largest federal procurement agency, in May 2006. Within months she was embroiled in
multiple scandals: he GSA’s chief of procurement, David Safavian, was convicted of
lying to the GSA’s Inspector General about his relationship with American’s most
infamous corrupt lobbyist, Jack Abramoff; Doan compared the Inspector General’s
overall scrutiny to “terrorism;” she gave a friend and former business partner a
contract that was required to have competitive bidding; and, in May 2007, the Office
of Special Counsel found that Doan violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use
of government agencies for political goals, for asking her employees to find ways
for the GSA to assist Republican political candidates.
Doan’s only qualification for landing one of the top administrative positions in the federal government—an agency in charge of over $50 billion in federal contracts—was knowing how to land those contracts. Before joining GSA, she ran New Technology Management, a firm that scored a total of $200 million in government contracts through 2005. Doan and her husband, who works at the Department of Homeland Security, gave $200,000 to Republican candidates and causes between 1999 and 2006.
President Bush appointed Doan GSA administrator in April 2006, and she started in May. One of her first moves was to tell contractors that she intended to reduce the time necessary for them to get on the GSA Schedule to just 30 days from the current 4–12 months. (The GSA Schedule is a list of pre-approved contractors that government agencies can call upon to provide goods and services when they need them.) Doan, ever the entrepreneur, said her favorite words are “yes” and “now.”
In June 2006, Doan appointed Jim Williams as Commissioner of the newly created Federal Acquisition Service, which merged the GSA’s two main contracting units to manage acquisitions and customer service. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says it “seems likely” that Doan’s hiring of Williams is related to his having helped Doan’s New Technology Management land GSA contracts during his earlier tenure at the agency.
(Williams had been in charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which was to be a high-tech system for tracking foreign visitors. Under Williams, the program was a mess, criticized by both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice for being understaffed, poorly managed, and over budget, and for producing a deficient and outdated system. When Accenture—a firm spun off from Arthur Andersen, the accounting giant that collapsed during the Enron scandal—won the multi-billion dollar US-VISIT contract, critics pointed out that Williams and Steve Kelman, the man who engineered Accenture’s bid, had previously worked together at GSA to create rules that made it easier to outsource government work. Accenture pulled in Kelman in anticipation of the US-VISIT bid.
In July 2006, Doan disregarded federal regulations and laws to award a $20,000 contract to a public relations firm run by longtime friend and business partner Edie Fraser. GSA lawyers cancelled the contract, and Doan said, “I’m stunned, absolutely stunned by the amount of legs that this has taken, you know, how this has like kind of jumped up and run away with things.”
In the summer of 2006, Doan, chafing at oversight from Inspector General Brian Miller, suggested that some of his ability to audit contracts for fraud and waste be turned over to small businesses. In August, she told Miller and his staff, “There are two kinds of terrorism in the U.S.: the external kind and internally, the IGs have terrorized the regional administrators.”
In October 2006, GSA chief of staff David Safavian was convicted on four felony counts of lying and obstructing justice and was later sentenced to 18 months in prison. Safavian lied to cover up his efforts to help disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff acquire two federal properties. (Safavian previously worked at lobbying firm Janus-Merritt Strategies with GOP power broker Grover Norquist. Lobbying disclosure records from Janus-Merritt Strategies showed that it represented convicted terror financier Abdurrahman Alamoudi, although the forms were later changed to show that Janus-Merritt was not representing Alamoudi but Jamal Barzinji, who has not been designated a terrorist by the United States, but is a former business associate of Youssef Nada, who was.)
In January 2007, Deputy White House Political Director Scott Jennings, an aide to Karl Rove, presented a slideshow to GSA employees about Republican goals for the 2008 elections at the GSA. Doan asked everyone there to think about how they could use GSA to “help our candidates.” An investigation by the Office of Special Counsel declared in May 2007 that Doan had violated the Hatch Act, which forbids government officials from using their position to push political goals, and recommended she be fired. Doan reportedly called GSA employees who cooperated with the investigation poor performers and threatened to deny them promotions or bonuses.
- Waxman to Doan: Step Down, TPMmuckraker.com, June 13, 2007: http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/003425.php
- GSA Head’s Attorney Denounces Allegations, Washington Post, June 2, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/01/AR2007060102533.html
- GSA Chief Lurita Doan Violated the Hatch Act, Harper’s, May 23, 2007: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/05/hbc-90000150
- GSA Chief Violated Hatch Act, OSC Report Finds, Federal Times, May 22, 2007: http://www.federaltimes.com/index.php?S=2777859
- GSA Chief Scrutinized for Deal With Friend, Washington Post, January 19, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/18/AR2007011801758.html
- U.S. Border Security At a Crossroads, Washington Post, May 23, 2005: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/22/AR2005052200613_pf.h tml
- GSA Appoints New Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner, General Services Administration, June 5, 2006: http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/gsa/ep/contentView.do?pageTypeId=8169&channelId=-13259 &P=XAP&contentId=21116&contentType=GSA_BASIC
- DHS Inspector General Cites Gaps In Visitor Tracking Program, Government Executive, March 23, 2005: http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0305/032305c1.htm
- New GSA Chief Promises ‘Actions, Not Words,’ Government Executive, June 6, 2006: http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0606/060606m1.htm
- Drive-By Contracting, Project on Government Oversight, June 7, 2006: http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2006/06/driveby_contrac.html
Senators Press for Answers on GSA Chief, TPMmuckraker.com, April 23,
- Blog, TalkingPointsMemo.com, December 1,2006: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2006_11_26.php#011360
- GSA Chief Grilled on GOP Slide Show, TPMmuckraker.com, March 28, 2007: http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002896.php
- House Panel Opens Investigation of GSA’s Deal with Friend, Washington Post, January 20, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/19/AR2007011901506.html
- GSA Chief Spars With House Panel Democrats, Government Executive, June 13, 2007: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=37181&dcn=todaysnews
- GSA Outlines New Acquisition Organization, Government Executive, June 2, 2005: http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0605/060205h1.htm