House panel raises new allegations against GSA chief

The head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan to appear before the panel to address evidence gathered by investigators suggesting she may have engaged in improper political and contracting activity.

In a 15-page letter released Tuesday, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said investigators found that during a teleconference in late January, Doan asked agency officials to find opportunities to help Republican political candidates win office. Waxman said the GSA inspector general has asked the Office of Special Counsel to open an investigation into whether Doan violated the Hatch Act, a law limiting political activity in the federal workplace.

Waxman's letter, addressed to Doan, also charged that she intervened on the behalf of Sun Microsystems, a computer vendor in Santa Clara, Calif., in the midst of a lengthy contract renewal dispute.

The letter also said investigators found documents revealing Doan was disingenuous in explaining why she attempted to award a no-bid $20,000 contract to a friend with whom she has had extensive personal and business dealings.

Waxman asked Doan to appear before the committee on March 20 to respond to the allegations. The letter noted that Waxman's staff will be seeking access to GSA employees over the next two weeks for interviews and depositions.

"Because of the leadership role you play in federal procurement, allegations of improper conduct should not go unexamined or unaddressed," Waxman wrote. "As GSA administrator with authority over billions in federal contracts, your actions set an example for procurement officials throughout the government. You should be a model for integrity in contracting."

In a statement, a GSA spokeswoman said Doan looks forward to meeting with Waxman to discuss GSA, and that the agency will fully cooperate with the committee. The spokeswoman said it would be inappropriate for GSA to comment further on an upcoming congressional hearing.

Waxman's letter stated that during a nationwide teleconference hosted at GSA headquarters, Doan asked senior staff members and 40 GSA political appointees around the country how GSA could help "our candidates" in the next elections. Doan convened the teleconference, which included presentations by J. Scott Jennings, a special assistant to President Bush and White House deputy director of political affairs, and John Horton, GSA's liaison to the White House, about national polling data from the November 2006 elections.

Waxman said in the letter that he had been told that one GSA regional administrator responded to Doan's inquiry by describing an effort to exclude House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., from attending the opening of an environmentally efficient "green" courthouse in San Francisco.

The letter also alleged that Doan raised concerns about an upcoming courthouse opening in Florida that former President Bill Clinton had expressed interest in attending. Doan said an effort should be made to get Republican National Committee General Chairman Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., to attend.

An OSC spokesman declined to say whether a Hatch Act investigation had been initiated. The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch officials from engaging in partisan activity using government equipment and while on duty, or in official government work space.

"GSA has a tradition of independent, nonpartisan administration of the laws," Waxman's letter stated. "It would be an obvious abuse if you suggested to agency officials that the activities of the agency be manipulated to provide political advantages to Republican candidates."

Waxman also said he has information showing that Doan intervened in the process of renewing Sun Microsystems' contract for a variety of information technology services and products. As a result, taxpayers could unnecessarily spend $5.2 million more for the company's products and services, Waxman charged. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, first raised the issue in a letter last week to Doan.

According to Waxman, the first contracting officer assigned to the case refused to extend the contract on the terms Sun proposed because the officer concluded the company was not offering sufficient discounts. GSA's inspector general conducted a January 2006 pre-award audit that supported the officer's decision that the discounts Sun offered to government purchasers were not as favorable as some it granted to commercial purchasers.

Some time before Doan took office at GSA in May 2006, a second contracting official replacing the initial one reached the same conclusions, Waxman wrote. The second official learned about discussions between the IG and the Justice Department regarding a possible False Claims Act referral of Sun overcharges, according to Waxman.

On Aug. 29, 2006, Doan met with senior IG auditing staff members from the inspector general's office and signaled it was essential for GSA to complete the contract extension with Sun, Waxman said. Two days later, the second contracting official had been moved off the case and a third officer was assigned to resume contract negotiations.

Nine days after that, the third official completed the negotiations with terms that were inferior to a previous Sun proposal, Waxman wrote. Shortly after finishing the negotiation, the contracting officer received a requested transfer from Washington, D.C., to Denver, Waxman wrote. The request had been refused before, the letter stated.

Finally, the letter charged Doan had an extensive personal and business relationship with Edie Fraser of the Public Affairs Group Inc. and attempted to go forward with issuing a $20,000 no-bid contract to Fraser even after GSA General Counsel Alan Swendiman repeatedly advised that the contract be terminated due to its questionable legality. Doan has said she put aside plans for the contract once she found out about potential problems.

Doan's former company, New Technology Management Inc., paid at least $417,500 to companies affiliated with Fraser before Doan took her GSA job, including $320,000 in management consulting fees and $97,500 in corporate and personal sponsorships, Waxman said.

The oversight committee chairman also said his staff uncovered evidence Fraser may have used her professional connections to help Doan and her family. After Doan was nominated to lead GSA, Fraser tried to convince several senators to support her. The letter also said Fraser may have helped arrange a congressional internship for Doan's high-school-aged daughter.

Waxman's letter contained the text of an e-mail message from Fraser to Doan:

Lurita, I will do anything for you and will do for the rest of my life.
Bottom line, want relationship with GSA and will keep delivering as you know.
But I have spent so much time at GSA from the report planning to these sessions with ZERO $$
How do we solve
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