GSA nominee vows to repair relationship with inspector general

GSA Administrator-designate Martha Johnson testifies Wednesday on Capitol Hill. GSA Administrator-designate Martha Johnson testifies Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Harry Hamburg/AP
A contentious relationship with the inspector general can be the undoing of an agency head; just ask former General Services Administration chief Lurita A. Doan. Doan cites her very public feud with IG Brian Miller as the reason Bush administration officials asked her to resign in April 2008. In the wake of this controversy, Martha Johnson, President Obama's nominee to lead GSA, is taking the path toward conciliation.

"I have the highest regard for Brian Miller and the IG office at GSA, and I am deeply interested in being sure he is able to play his role in supporting us," Johnson said during her nomination hearing on Wednesday. "A good IG allows an administrator to sleep at night, and I don't want to diminish that role in any way."

While it may be necessary for Johnson to focus on repairing relations with the IG's office, Doan said in an interview that the far more important challenge for the incoming administrator will be assuring contracting officers that she stands with them. The agency, she said, has received budget increases to support oversight of procurement, but funding to beef up the acquisition workforce has remained flat, leaving contracting officers feeling threatened and disenfranchised.

"The IG situation at GSA is pretty fierce," Doan said. "One of her biggest challenges will be keeping faith with those federal procurement officers and making them understand that they will not have to fight that battle alone."

Being an advocate for contracting workers, Doan said, will require faith in employees' extensive training and professionalism, and budgetary support. She said Johnson will have the authority to increase funding for the contracting workforce if confirmed, ensuring, at least, that some of the administrative workload -- made heavier still by requirements for implementing the economic stimulus package -- is lifted.

Lawmakers, who were acutely aware of the tension between Doan and Miller, asked Johnson to describe her view of the relationship between the administrator and the IG in advance of her nomination hearing. In the pre-hearing questionnaire, Johnson said the IG plays a critical and valuable oversight, investigatory and analytical role.

"I believe that the relationship between the GSA administrator and GSA IG can be and needs to be respectful, regular, open and productive," she wrote.

In a statement to Government Executive, Miller said it was a historic moment for GSA and the nation and he and his staff looked forward to working with Johnson to meet the challenges under the Recovery Act.

"I am encouraged by Martha Johnson's statements in her confirmation hearing," Miller said.

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