GSA chief spars with House panel Democrats

Lurita Doan testified for three hours before House panel Wednesday. Lurita Doan testified for three hours before House panel Wednesday. Liz Lynch

Two senior House Democrats have joined members of the Senate in calling for General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan to step down.

At the conclusion of a contentious three-hour hearing looking at the GSA administrator's conduct during an investigation into allegations that she violated the law that limits political activity in government, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., criticized Doan for refusing to take responsibility for her actions and attacking others for doing their jobs.

"I have no confidence that you have learned anything from the experience of your one-year time at GSA," Waxman said. "It is unusual for me to ever call for the resignation of a federal official, but in your case, I don't see any other course of action that will protect the interest of your agency and the federal taxpayer."

Waxman said Doan cannot be an effective leader because she "has abused the trust of her employees, [and] threatened to deny [employees] promotions and bonuses for telling the truth." He also argued she has lost the public's confidence by politicizing GSA.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., on Tuesday said President Bush should fire or suspend Doan immediately. And in April, two Democratic senators called for her to resign in light of "multiple ethical lapses."

The head of the Office of Special Counsel, an independent investigative agency, said in a four-page letter delivered to President Bush late last week that Doan should be "be disciplined to the fullest extent" for violating the Hatch Act and for failing to cooperate fully and honestly with OSC's investigation into the violation.

OSC concluded that Doan violated the Hatch Act's prohibition against using her authority to interfere with or affect an election through her role in a Jan. 26 meeting at GSA headquarters. After a presentation by White House official Scott Jennings, Doan allegedly asked a question about helping Republican candidates, though accounts of her exact wording vary. Doan has maintained that she does not remember making such a comment and has argued that the OSC report is flawed and omits critical evidence.

The White House has said it is reviewing the OSC report.

Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, led by ranking member Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., continued to defend Doan during Wednesday's hearing. Davis said the hearing was a partisan attempt to smear an "entrepreneurial African-American woman" who supports the Bush administration.

"Today's hearing is a gross misuse of committee resources, built on an unprofessional and seemingly preordained report from the Office of Special Counsel," Davis said. "It is a farce premised on a sham."

Doan defended her allegations that the employees who testified to OSC about her statements at the Jan. 26 meeting were biased and poor performers who needed "extensive rehabilitation." She said her comments to OSC investigators were taken out of context, and that she was speculating.

"Was I wrong to speculate? Absolutely. I should not have done this," Doan said. "I did it because I was trying to be compliant, and I thought it was going to be totally confidential."

Doan's statements that the employees were poor performers were contradicted by OSC, which found that the employees were all ranked as satisfactory or better in their performance reviews.

Doan said she would never and has never retaliated against a federal employee and that her statements to OSC were in her mind "in the area of supposition and conjecture."

"I noticed as I went through the transcript [of the interview with OSC] that I have probably some problems sometimes with tense as well as with personal pronouns," Doan said. "I feel terrible about this. I apologize to my employees. This is horrible. I regret deeply having allowed this to happen."

At the hearing, panel members also unveiled a document indicating that even before Doan was appointed to the GSA position, she may have sought to serve in the Bush administration for the purpose of helping the Republican Party.

In a May 2005 e-mail to her husband, Doan included a draft of an e-mail intended for a White House official in which she said that if she were named to head the Small Business Administration, she would "be in a position to encourage both funding and votes to the GOP."

Doan was never nominated for the SBA spot.

The draft included in the e-mail was apparently intended for White House aide Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy. The e-mail, in which Doan sought feedback on the draft message to Hubbard, was sent the day after Hubbard spoke at a two-day Republican National Committee event attended by Doan. At the time, she was president and CEO of the technology company she founded, New Technology Management Inc.

"As I mentioned, I believe that the part[y] has a unique opportunity to make about a 5 percent swing of black votes to the GOP," the e-mail stated. "One of the largest concentrations of wealth and influence lies in the black business community of small, black business owners who represent the largest percentage of participants in the various SBA programs."

Doan thanked Hubbard in the e-mail for forwarding her biography to the administration for consideration and said that she would "love to be given the opportunity to serve in this way."

According to a committee spokeswoman, the e-mail came up in an investigation by the Homeland Security Department inspector general. Doan's husband left the department after two years of service in October 2005. He had been unsuccessful in steering food catering work to local Louisiana vendors in the midst of the response to the Hurricane Katina, according to USA Today.

Doan said she was a private citizen at the time the message was sent and had not had any briefings on the Hatch Act.

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