Lawmakers question GSA chief’s plans for agency auditors

Members of Congress are concerned about an attempt by the head of the General Services Administration to limit the audits conducted by the agency's inspector general office, and have asked that no further action be taken until a detailed analysis is conducted.

In a letter Tuesday to GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., James Oberstar, D-Minn., and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said they have not seen any evidence that a plan to hire contractors to conduct certain pre-contract award audits now performed by the IG's office would benefit taxpayers.

Doan's proposal to let private sector firms scrutinize the prices offered by vendors with multiple award schedules contracts risks reducing taxpayer savings, creating conflicts of interest among contractors and creating disputes over access to proprietary business information, the lawmakers wrote.

"You seem to be reversing the commitments of your predecessor, contradicting the recommendations of [the Government Accountability Office] and tampering with a system that works well, all to alleviate the 'stress' of corporations that have attempted to overcharge the taxpayer," the letter stated.

Doan also has recommended that the agency's inspector general perform only half of proposed fiscal 2007 audits, and critics have faulted her for refusing to grant the IG office's full fiscal 2008 budget request.

Doan said Monday that some GSA employees "are wedded to old inefficiencies" and see no need to cut costs or reduce annual increases. She said previous administrators were not willing to "apply common budget discipline" to the IG's office.

Waxman, poised to take the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Committee in January, has said that his highest oversight priorities will be waste, fraud and abuse. Oberstar serves as ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is expected to become the panel's chairman in January. Holmes Norton is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee.

In a separate letter Wednesday, Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., stated that adequate funding of GSA's investigative arm is paramount. The senators asked Doan to provide details on the anticipated savings from outsourcing the pre-award reviews and an estimate of the reduction of the IG's oversight capacity. The senators also wanted to know whether the arrangement will provide an independent analysis of GSA contracts.

Coburn is a leading opponent of excess government spending. The letter stated that all government agencies must look for ways to reduce excessive spending, but targeting the IG's efforts to oversee $60 billion in investments "appears ill-advised."

"Reducing staffing levels at the OIG, which have remained relatively flat since 2000, will diminish the office's capacity to identify and resolve cases of contract fraud, waste and abuse," the senators wrote.

In response to the letters, Doan wrote Thursday that she is "working hard to balance [the agency's] budget, and distributing this effort evenly and fairly is challenging because most of our funding is not through direct appropriations." She said the fiscal 2008 budget request is not complete and that she will discuss it in detail after the budget is sent to Congress.

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