Ex-OMB official will fight criminal allegations

The Office of Management and Budget's former procurement chief will contest charges that he lied to an ethics officer and obstructed an inspector general office's investigation, his defense lawyer said Wednesday.

David Safavian will fight "vigorously" the three-count criminal complaint that led to his arrest Monday, said Barbara Van Gelder, a partner at the Washington firm Wiley, Rein and Fielding LLP. Safavian served as administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy from November 2004 until his resignation Friday, but the charges relate to a golf trip when he was chief of staff at the General Services Administration.

"We think this is a creative use of the criminal code to try to secure Mr. Safavian's cooperation in other matters," Van Gelder said.

Safavian is accused of making false statements to a GSA ethics officer regarding his interactions with a lobbyist he accompanied on a golf trip to Scotland in early August 2002. That person is identified only as "Lobbyist A" in an affidavit filed Sept. 16 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Reising, but the description indicates that he is most likely Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff, a prominent Republican lobbyist, last month pleaded not guilty to fraud charges. Those charges relate to his dealings with Florida casinos. He and Safavian both worked at the law firm Preston Gates and Ellis in the mid-1990s.

According to Reising's affidavit, Safavian on July 25, 2002, sent an e-mail to a GSA ethics officer asking if he could accept free air travel for a Scotland golf trip hosted by Lobbyist A. "The host is a lawyer and lobbyist, but one that has no business before GSA (he does all of his work on Capitol Hill)," the message read, as described in the affidavit.

Safavian allegedly made a similar assertion when the GSA inspector general's office questioned him in late March and early April 2003. The IG's office was investigating an anonymous hotline complaint about "an international golfing trip provided by lobbyists," Reising said in the affidavit.

GSA closed the investigation because Safavian "falsely represented" that Lobbyist A "had no business with GSA prior to the . . . trip," Reising stated. Safavian also said he had taken annual leave for the outing and reimbursed Lobbyist A for all expenses, including airfare, according to the affidavit.

Safavian made similar statements in a March 2005 letter to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which was investigating allegations that tribal funds were used to pay for the trip to Scotland, and in later interviews with the FBI and a special agent from the Interior Department's IG office, the affidavit stated.

But a trail of e-mails exchanged between Lobbyist A and Safavian using Safavian's home account, indicated that the two conducted business before and after the August 2002 golf trip, Reising alleged. The e-mails showed that Safavian was helping the lobbyist in attempts to acquire federal property, according to the affidavit.

During the summer of 2002, Safavian allegedly advised Lobbyist A on efforts to obtain about 40 acres of land at the 600-acre GSA-managed Naval Surface Warfare Center-White Oak in Silver Spring, Md. Reising claimed that Safavian also aided the lobbyist in attempts to amend regulations on developing the Old Post Office building in Washington. The changes would have provided "tribal clients a competitive advantage in efforts to lease and develop the building," Reising stated.

Interactions over the properties included a meeting with Lobbyist A's wife, in which Safavian allegedly advised her to use her maiden name. "David does not want [Lobbyist A's last name] used in the meeting," the lobbyist allegedly wrote in a July 30, 2002, e-mail to his wife. The message references a meeting on Aug. 2, 2002, according to the affidavit.

E-mails from Lobbyist A to a colleague also present evidence of a business relationship with Safavian, Reising claimed. In a June 2002 exchange about the golf trip, the colleague allegedly asked "Why Dave? . . . Business angle?" In response, Lobbyist A allegedly wrote in bold: "Total business angle. He is new chief of staff at GSA."

The allegations leading to Safavian's arrest revolve around his time at GSA and should not tarnish the credibility of OMB's procurement policy office, said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va.-based group representing contractors. "I don't think there is a message here," he said.

"There's a lot of disappointment and sadness for David and his family, obviously," Chvotkin added.

But others said regardless of whether Safavian is found innocent or guilty, the arrest will hurt OFPP's image. "It just adds to the speculation as to the true intentions of this administration," said Matthew Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, an AFL-CIO affiliate. Unions have long been opposed to the procurement office's competitive sourcing program, which encourages agencies to open some federal jobs to bids from the private sector.

American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage refrained from commenting on the case itself, except to say Safavian is "entitled to the presumption of innocence." But he noted that this could provide an opportunity for OFPP to rethink policies, including recent stances on emergency procurement for hurricane relief and competitive sourcing.

"The scandal is not that Mr. Safavian has been arrested," Gage said in a statement. "Rather, what is scandalous is how, in the name of disaster relief, competition and oversight in the procurement process is being systematically dismantled in ways that will promote corruption."

Safavian referred questions on the allegations to Van Gelder, who declined to comment further.

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