On the Mend

By Robert Brodsky and Daniel Pulliam

August 15, 2007

The General Services Administration claims some successes amid controversy.

Nearly a year after dropping the widely unpopular Get It Right program, an effort to improve the General Services Administration's track record after a litany of procurement abuse scandals, the agency seems to be getting some things right. The progress has come despite an avalanche of negative attention focused on GSA Administrator Lurita Doan. Hardly a week goes by without a revelation of controversial comments and decisions that have led to multiple calls for her dismissal.

In June, Doan was found to have violated the Hatch Act, which limits political activity in the federal government, after she was alleged to have stumped for Republican candidates at a GSA meeting. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency charged with enforcing the act, recommended that Doan be punished to the "fullest extent."

The GSA Inspector General's Office found in April that Doan might have sidestepped federal ethics and procurement rules when she attempted to award a $20,000 contract to a friend in July 2006, two months after taking her post. Doan also is contending with accusations of riding roughshod over career professionals to award a controversial contract to Sun Microsystems.

But even as Doan struggles, the rest of the agency seems to be recovering from more than a year of missteps.

The Pentagon is urging acquisition officers to use a GSA contract vehicle to fulfill a congressional mandate to contract with small firms owned by service-disabled

veterans-a sign that the relationship between GSA and its biggest customer could be improving.

"The DoD-GSA [Memorandum of Agreement] has done a lot in providing a framework for the good will," says Molly Wilkinson, GSA's new chief acquisition officer. "They have to do things on their side of the table, us on our side of the table. But every time we do that . . . it gives credibility and comfort level and increases the trust factor."

In recent months, GSA took the final steps to consolidate two major procurement divisions into the new Federal Acquisition Service and moved to open its buying schedules to federal grant holders at the state and local levels. The agency also can claim credit as the sole shared-service provider for the governmentwide identification mandate known as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, and continues to plow ahead with implementation.

GSA received a clean financial audit for fiscal 2006. And defying naysayers, the agency successfully awarded its next-generation governmentwide telecommunications contract, Networx, on time, avoiding contract protests and convincing the Treasury Department to abandon its solo telecommunications procurement.

But despite the successes, storm clouds are gathering over the agency. An exodus of senior officials at the beginning of the year has depleted its leadership ranks, and a key House appropriations subcommittee chairman warned Doan explicitly in April that if scandals are not cleaned up, the agency's funding bill will be amended "to shreds."

Regardless of whether Doan follows the advice of Henry Waxman, D-Calif., House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, and resigns or is dismissed by Bush for violating the Hatch Act, GSA is in between a rock and a hard place.

If Doan stays, the scandals will not go away. If Doan leaves, the agency risks being without a leader for the remainder of the Bush administration, since finding a qualified replacement will take time.


By Robert Brodsky and Daniel Pulliam

August 15, 2007

http://www.govexec.com/magazine/features/2007/08/on-the-mend/25087/