Lurita Alexis Doan: Good Management Meets Bad Politics
Lurita Alexis Doan
General Services Administration A good female manager leading the GSA is bringing out the worst in Congressman Henry Waxman.
Waxman is conducting hearings investigating the General Services Agency head, Lurita Alexis Doan. The Democratic Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is accusing Doan of sweetheart deals (that never happened), of lack of competence (voiced by ‘reassigned’ personnel), and of violations of the Hatch Act. The accusation of Hatch Act violations is the most serious.
In the early fall lead-up to the 2006 election, Doan attended part of a meeting where Scott Jennings, a deputy of Karl Rove, delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the political landscape. Doan doesn’t remember the presentation. There are conflicting stories on what she said while in the meeting.
The White House insists that the presentations were vetted by Counsel and were both legal and ethical. The Hatch Act was created to prevent federal employees from politicking on the job. A nearly impossible requirement for political appointees, because nearly everything is, well, political. So the Hatch Act has three main restrictions, loose, but well-defined boundaries. The Federal Employee cannot:
1) Be a political candidate;
2) Fundraise for a political campaign; or
3) Allow their names to be used in political campaigns
Lurita Doan committed none of these offenses.
So what is Doan’s crime?
Waxman believes Doan is a dupe or worse – an ally of the White House. Karl Rove, naturally, is the intended target, even though Doan has never met Karl Rove. To make the Rovian connection, much is made of her $200K donation to the Republican National Committee/George Bush. (But I think her real sin was in 1996, when she gave $300 to CIA-hating Ron Dellums, Democrat from California. I guess that evens the score.)
Doan knows a bit about politics, not because she’s from Louisiana or a high school chum of Mary Landrieu. She learned politics from academia, first as an adjunct professor then to serving on Vassar College Board of Trustees.
She learned business from her family. Doan founded, then sold New Technology Management, a security and surveillance company. Lurita Doan wanted to bring her successful for-profit background into the non-profit government bureaucracy.
Doan then became the first woman to serve as the chief executive of the U.S. General Services Administration, the $66 billion agency which has 12,300 employees.
GSA annual revenues were down $4.5 billion when Doan took control and she knew she had to make changes to turn around the numbers. She handled the budget cuts in a most unusual, unheard of tactic here in DC. She did not reduce budgets with a simple 10% across the board cut. That is the easy, preferred, amateur action. That is not management. Instead, Doan identified two divisions that “were starved of resources that potentially jeopardized …goals.” And she led by example by returning 37% of her discretionary budget back to the agency’s Working Capital Fund. This happens in business. Seldom in government.
She did targeted cuts in targeted areas. Without cutting payroll (which would have been easy). Without cutting training (almost as easy to cut as marketing) and without cutting bonuses (again, very easy to justify). She made the tough calls. This is management.
For example, Lurita Doan was most concerned that GSA spent $90,000 in information technology per employee. Doan knows a bit about IT and knew that something was off in the gold-plated platforms. The GSA’s computer infrastructure alone is valued at more than $100 million.
She headed the consolidation of over 100 IT contracts into a single vendor that was owned by a Service-disabled veteran. When Democrats do this, we have a celebration. When Republicans do this, we have a hearing.
Lurita Doan sees herself as a “manager of managers.” And she does have managers. Lots of ’em. She has 31 direct reports. Thirty-one. Even elementary school teachers don’t have that many papers to grade. Normal practice would have 8 to 12 direct reports. Doan doesn’t care for this cumbersome span of control. But the GSA chief administrator does not have the authority to alter the org chart. This can only be changed with congressional approval.
And Congress is known to move at its slowest when efficiency is in the solution.
All those direct reporting lines make for a weak CEO and poor accountability. By design, it would seem. A violation of every Management Training tenet.
Which is exactly what big spending liberals in Washington like. And they don’t like a no-nonsense manager who wants to get something done.
Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s
1939 film classic
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Ironically, the Hatch Act was passed in 1939, the same year Frank Capra directed the classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Mr. Smith found out how hard it is to pass legislation in Congress; Mrs. Doan is discovering how hard it is to effect change throughout the system.
Welcome to Washington, Lurita Doan.
“The agency oversees nearly $66 billion in federal spending — more than a quarter of the government’s procurement dollars. It has 12,300 employees who are spread out in offices around the country.
So what do GSA employees do with all that money? The GSA is the world’s largest landlord with more than 8,300 government-owned or leased buildings. It is responsible for a fleet of 170,000 vehicles, making it the world’s largest purchaser of new cars. The computer infrastructure it oversees is valued at more than $100 million. The agency is the world’s largest credit card service, and believe it or not, the world’s largest conservator of art.”