Special counsel finds GSA chief violated Hatch Act

By Daniel Pulliam

May 23, 2007

A report from the federal agency that investigates allegations of illegal political activity in the government has concluded that Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration, violated the Hatch Act.

The 21-page report from Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel, has not been made public, but the independent agency sent Doan a copy for her review on Friday, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The facts gathered by OSC investigators "establish that Administrator Doan violated the Hatch Act," by inducing "her subordinates to engage in the type of political brainstorming session that is prohibited from occurring while the political appointees are on duty or in a federal workplace," the May 18 report, obtained by Government Executive Wednesday, stated.

"I have determined that you violated the Hatch Act's prohibition against using your official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election when you solicited over 30 subordinate employees to engage in political activity," Bloch wrote in a cover letter to the report.

In a statement Wednesday, Doan said she disagreed with the report's preliminary findings, calling it a "staff-drafted report."

"I have concerns with the leaps in logic and the many inaccuracies contained in it, such as an error as simple as citing a nonexistent employee in my office," Doan said. "I have an opportunity, which I will take, to work with the Office of Special Counsel to correct the many inaccuracies before the final report is issued."

Doan later revised her statement, excluding the remark about the nonexistent employee in her office, but reiterating that she disagrees with the report's preliminary findings.

OSC will not comment on the report until Doan has submitted a response, a spokesman said. "We believe she should be given that opportunity," he said.

Doan has until June 1 to respond. OSC investigators will review her comments and deliver a final report to President Bush, since she is a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate.

A White House spokeswoman said that since they have not seen the report, they cannot comment.

The Hatch Act limits political activity in government agencies. OSC's investigation focused on Doan's role in a Jan. 26 meeting at GSA headquarters where Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president and a deputy of Karl Rove, showed a 28-slide PowerPoint presentation to more than 30 GSA political appointees that analyzed the results of the 2006 midterm election.

Several of the political appointees who attended the meeting testified that during a question-and-answer period following the presentation, Doan asked how the agency could help Republican candidates. The exact words Doan used differ among the witnesses according to the OSC report, but the investigators said in the report that this did not prevent them from determining her intent.

"One can imagine no greater violation of the Hatch Act than to invoke the machinery of an agency, with all its contracts and buildings, in the service of a partisan campaign to retake Congress and the governors' mansions," the report stated.

Doan has said she does not remember making the statement in question.

According to the report, Doan said during a May 3 interview with OSC, "I do find it highly disturbing that some of the most vocal proponents or the most articulate speaking out against me are also the people who are people I've either moved on or they are, I don't want to say permanently demoted but they're kind of, until extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs, they will not be getting promoted and they will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature."

But in looking at the performance reviews of seven employees who had provided information to House lawmakers about Doan's alleged statements, OSC found that Doan's claim regarding the witnesses "appears to have been purposefully misleading and false" since none of the seven employees had "between a poor to totally inferior performance."

"Administrator Doan's implication that the adverse witnesses were biased against her simply is not credible," the report stated. "[I]t is troubling that Administrator Doan made the above unsubstantiated allegations during an official investigation of her actions. It arguably indicates a willingness on her part not only to use her position in a way that is threatening to anyone who would come forward, but also suggests a willingness to retaliate against anyone who would be so 'disloyal' as to tell the truth about a matter she confesses she does not remember."

Doan also told OSC investigators that she does not remember any of the slides from the presentation because she was using her BlackBerry and only periodically looked up, but an OSC review of her e-mail use during that time failed to corroborate that she was using her BlackBerry or any other personal digital assistant during the meeting.

In sworn testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on March 28, Doan said she would not answer questions about whether she thought the meeting was appropriate and would let OSC "make their independent judgment and I will live with it."

"I am happy to leave the investigation and the decision-making to the Office of the Special Counsel," Doan told the panel. "I'm just going to let the investigation take its course, let them make their decision."


By Daniel Pulliam

May 23, 2007

http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2007/05/special-counsel-finds-gsa-chief-violated-hatch-act/24490/