GSA chief to go on offensive at House hearing

In testimony prepared for delivery before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan issues a point-by-point rebuttal to allegations of misconduct, and charges that the agency's inspector general has resisted her efforts to make management improvements.

Doan, head of the government's procurement and property management arm since May 2006, will be testifying before the panel in response to charges by its chairman, Henry Waxman, D-Calif., that she has attempted to undermine the IG's activities and may have engaged in improper contracting and political activity. She will appear along with Brian Miller, the agency's IG, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

A copy of Doan's official written testimony, obtained by Government Executive, indicates that the administrator plans to deny claims that she has tried to curb the authority and independence of the IG. In the testimony, she states that she stands by her contention that the IG contributes "to a hostile work environment" at the agency.

Last year, Doan advanced a plan to stop reimbursing the IG $5 million annually for scrutinizing the prices offered by vendors with multiple award schedules contracts. That plan did not make it into the agency's proposed fiscal 2008 budget. During the past two and a half years, IG pre-award scrutiny has saved the agency about $2 billion, according to the auditors' office.

In her testimony, Doan says that she was attempting to address an "imbalance" where a financially failing GSA division was forced to supplement the IG with $5 million for the audits. She argues the IG had resisted her efforts to "bring a little sunshine to all GSA spending decisions."

Doan also criticizes the IG for spending decisions "that seemed hard to justify" and "constituted a complete breakdown in any oversight or review." She says that the IG's spending on information technology "seems excessive" in comparison to the rest of GSA and that the office's process for awarding promotions and bonuses to Senior Executive Service members is "unchecked and unaccountable."

The GSA chief will testify that the IG's office has shown that it cannot properly safeguard confidential information, raising questions about its ability to administer waste, fraud and abuse hotlines. The "system has broken down," Doan says, and it will take "a concerted effort to repair" it.

Doan also plans to tell lawmakers that a monthly report she requested in January from the IG on the office's activities has yet to be delivered.

Republicans on the committee also appear ready to come to Doan's defense. A report released Tuesday by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., ranking member of the committee, highlighted tensions between the IG and the GSA chief.

The testimony IG Miller prepared for the hearing "reads like a legal brief in opposition to the administrator," the Davis staff report stated. The report also said Miller's background as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia raises the question of whether he has enough prior auditing experience to lead the IG office.

More generally, Davis stated that Waxman's investigation has "failed to establish" that Doan engaged in any form of misconduct.

"[T]he allegations against the administrator are spurious and won't stand up to public scrutiny," said David Marin, Davis' staff director. "The hearing title says it all: 'Allegations of Misconduct at GSA.' Not facts. Not findings. Not even credible complaints."

Doan also plans to deny Waxman's assertions that she was involved in negotiations for a hardware, software and support services contract with Sun Microsystems.

The committee's Democratic staff released a 10-page memorandum Tuesday that says that e-mail correspondence, documents and interviews provide evidence that the award of the contract on unfavorable terms to the government was made after Sun representatives intervened directly with Doan, contradicting the explicit recommendations of multiple civil service contract officials.

Doan will testify that she was not involved in the negotiations, and that her main concern was that the IG office referred Sun to the Justice Department for alleged defective pricing practices without advising her.

In regard to charges that she attempted to issue a $20,000 no-bid contract to personal friend Edie Fraser of Public Affairs Group Inc., Doan will testify that she was trying to move quickly to generate the report on what the agency was doing to help disadvantaged and minority businesses, and what they could do to improve.

Doan says that it is a professional and personal "embarrassment" to her that she leads an organization with a failing grade from the Small Business Administration in using small, disadvantaged and woman-owned and service-disabled veteran companies. She acknowledges that attempting to issue the contract was "a procedural mistake," but notes that it was later nullified with her full support.

"[N]o government purchase orders were issued. No work was performed on the report and no federal funds were spent," Doan says in her testimony. "To suggest there was any wrongdoing is inaccurate and misleading…there was no intentional wrongdoing."

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