White House forces resignation of embattled GSA chief

Lurita Doan was summoned to the White House for a late afternoon meeting Tuesday, and resigned that evening.

Lurita Doan, the embattled head of the General Services Administration, resigned at the request of the White House, sources said Tuesday.

According to people familiar with the matter, the controversial agency administrator was summoned to the White House for a late afternoon meeting Tuesday, during which she was asked to step down.

Doan's ouster comes nearly 11 months after the independent Office of Special Counsel concluded an investigation of Doan and called for President Bush to fire her for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using government resources for partisan politics.

The OSC probe dealt with a January 2007 meeting between Doan, GSA political appointees and former White House political aide Scott Jennings. After Jennings showed a PowerPoint slide show detailing Republican electoral plans Doan asked, "How can we help our candidates?"

Doan has consistently said she does not remember making such a comment.

But the OSC, citing multiple witnesses, concluded the statement was tantamount to instructing subordinates to use their offices to assist Republican candidates. "Doan solicited the political activity of over 30 of her subordinate employees," Special Counsel Scott Bloch wrote in a June 8 summary of his office's investigation.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the ranking member of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Wednesday, "It would be a shame if [Doan's resignation] 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 personality conflicts played a role. Certainly, her management style was not everyone's cup of tea. But the administrator appears to have fallen victim to a bureaucratic culture that fears, rather than rewards, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and bold leadership."

Doan faced heavy criticism last year from congressional Democrats. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., grilled Doan at two hearings over the Hatch Act violation and regarding allegations that she improperly intervened to assist a federal contactor, Sun Microsystems, in its negotiations with GSA and over charges that she unsuccessfully attempted to steer a small no-bid contract to a longtime friend.

Doan has battled with her agency's inspector general for nearly two years, drawing strong criticism from Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley.

In an e-mail message to GSA employees, Doan wrote: "The past twenty-two 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." It was not immediately clear what prompted the timing of Doan's ouster. Though a number of House and Senate members urged Doan's resignation last year, she appeared to have survived the storm. In recent months she has continued to clash publicly with GSA's inspector general, but she has generally avoided drawing fire from Capitol Hill this year.

Recently the IG, Brian Miller, was cleared of allegations of misconduct in a pair of wide-ranging complaints filed by four of the IG office's former attorneys.

The inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service found that Miller had not violated any statute, rule or regulation, according to a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to Doan.

A similar opinion was offered in January by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency's Integrity Committee, which is responsible for probing complaints against inspectors general.

The closure of the whistleblower case appeared inflame Doan, who has feuded with Miller virtually since the day she took office. Last week, she vowed to continue to advocate for employees who had filed complaints against Miller and his office.

In an e-mail to Government Executive early Wednesday morning after her resignation, Doan wrote, "this 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," Doan wrote in the message.