By Elizabeth Newell Jochum and Robert Brodsky
April 30, 2008In the end, it wasn't an investigation into potential Hatch Act violations, pressure from Capitol Hill or alleged interference in General Services Administration contract negotiations that brought down GSA Administrator Lurita A. Doan.
While each of these controversies may have pushed the White House to the breaking point, Doan appeared to have survived them. Ultimately, her turbulent two-year tenure as head of the General Services Administration apparently came to an end Tuesday as a result of her ongoing and public feud with her agency's inspector general, Brian Miller.
Multiple government sources, including Doan herself, indicated to Government Executive that her ouster was the result of the dispute with Miller, which deepened during the past several weeks after the IG was cleared in a pair of whistleblower probes. The recent flare-up may have been the final straw after Doan had survived a series of earlier probes of alleged misconduct on her part.
In an e-mail to Government Executive at 4:20 a.m. on Wednesday, Doan said a dispute over whistleblower complaints filed last year by four former IG attorneys "remains an enormously serious issue, which I still believe ought to be addressed … I would rather get fired for something I believe in, and a cause I was willing to fight for, rather than to believe in nothing worth being fired for."
In recent weeks, Doan has become a strong advocate for the four attorneys, alleging that their complaints were not being thoroughly investigated.
In February, after a panel of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency dismissed the whistleblower complaints, Doan said the decision "confirms the suspicions of many that the PCIE is a hollow shell, that the PCIE exists only as a fig leaf to provide the illusion of oversight over IG misconduct, but, in fact, its real purpose is to whitewash any wrongdoing, avoid responsible action and ensure a blind eye to IG misconduct."
Later, in a letter to Kenneth Kaiser, the integrity committee's chairman and assistant director of the FBI's criminal division, Doan said the PCIE's classification of the complaint as an "internal dispute" was "absurd."
Earlier this week, the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, who had agreed to review the case after the PCIE determined that some of the complaints did not fall within its purview, said it had found no evidence of wrongdoing by Miller or his deputies. Doan still refused to drop the matter, saying that she "will stay on this issue like a dog on a bone until I am absolutely convinced that GSA does not harbor or tolerate behavior that creates a hostile workplace."
Doan blamed Miller for her problems at GSA, arguing that the IG was retaliating against her for attempting to cut his budget and increase oversight of his office.
In a statement, Miller said, "We hope that this change at GSA will enable everyone in the agency to work more closely together now in focusing on important tasks. Doing the very best for American taxpayers should be our common goal."
Doan's unconventional tactics were on display last Wednesday at a GSA conference in Anaheim, Calif. At a dinner sponsored by a contractor trade group, she appeared on stage with arrows sticking out of her head, shoulders, arms and legs, according to a transcript of the speech posted on GSA's Web site. Using the arrows to illustrate her challenges at GSA, Doan said she had been taking shots from the media, Congress and those who represented the "status quo."
While neither GSA nor the White House would provide a reason for Doan's dismissal, her uncensored public statements and involvement in the Miller case had clearly become a distraction.
According to people familiar with the matter, Doan was summoned to the White House for a late- afternoon meeting on Tuesday, during which she was asked to step down.
David Bibb, GSA's deputy administrator, will take over on an interim basis.
In a message to GSA employees, Doan made no mention of Miller, focusing only on her successes. "The past 22 months have been filled with accomplishments: together, we have regained our clean audit opinion, restored fiscal discipline, re-tooled our ability to respond to emergencies, rekindled entrepreneurial energies, reduced bureaucratic barriers to small companies to get a GSA Schedule, ignited a building boom at our nation's ports of entries, boldly led the nation in an aggressive telework initiative, and improved employee morale so that we were selected as one of the best places to work in the federal government. I have great faith in the abilities of GSA's dedicated team."
The tussle involving the complaints about the IG's office is just the latest in long series of controversies surrounding Doan.
In May 2007, federal investigators concluded that Doan had violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government workers from engaging in political activity on the job. The investigation by the Office of Special Counsel was launched in response to a presentation at GSA headquarters by Scott Jennings, a deputy of Karl Rove, President Bush's former chief political strategist.
Scott Bloch, head of the OSC, wrote in a May 18 report that Doan violated the Hatch Act by encouraging "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."
Bloch urged President Bush to discipline Doan "to the fullest extent." Several members of Congress, including Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Doan should resign. The White House never officially responded to the recommendations, issuing only periodic statements that it was considering Bloch's report and its recommendations.
James Mitchell, the OSC's director of communications, said the office was unaware if Doan's resignation was related to the Hatch Act report.
Waxman said, "I know this decision was difficult for the White House and Lurita Doan, but it was the right thing to do. GSA should now be able to return to its nonpartisan tradition and its work as our government's premier contracting agency."
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the committee's ranking member and a frequent Doan supporter, said, "It would be a shame if this decision had anything to do with the hyperbolic and unfounded allegations of Scott Bloch and others who were after her just to claim another administration scalp. There's no doubt the personality conflicts played a role. Certainly, her management style was not everyone's cup of tea. The administrator appears to have fallen victim to a bureaucratic culture that fears, rather than rewards, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and bold leadership."
Doan had been involved in a pair of procurement-related controversies as well. She was accused in January 2007 of attempting to award a $20,000 no-bid contract to a personal and professional friend. The following month, Sen. Charles Grassley, R- Iowa, accused Doan of interfering in the process of renewing a Sun Microsystems technology contract. In March 2007, Miller testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Doan had rejected the judgment of three career contracting officers to choose Sun's higher-priced officer.
In the following months, Grassley accused Sun of refusing to hand over documents for an ongoing audit by the inspector general. Sun Chairman Scott McNealy wrote to Grassley that he had turned over all necessary documents but had "serious concerns regarding the objectivity of this particular inspector general on this particular issue," a concern that Doan echoed. Sun withdrew from its GSA contracts in September 2007.
Grassley said on Wednesday that "in my oversight of the GSA, including the Sun Microsystems contract, it appeared that the taxpayer was not the agency's top concern. Instead we found questionable actions, finger-pointing, and stonewalling."
By Elizabeth Newell Jochum and Robert Brodsky
April 30, 2008