Lurita Alexis Doan: Good Management Meets Bad Politics

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The Honorable

Lurita Alexis Doan

Chief Executive

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.

mr_smith_comes_to_washingon_jimmie_stewart.jpg

Jimmie Stewart as

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.

Also see How To Cut The Federal Budget at a Government Agency by Lurita Alexis Doan

Be sure to read Rob Bluey who reminds us in TownHall.com that,

“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.”

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8 Responses

  1. Ken T. says:

    Dear Jack,

    Well, you’ve hit upon one of the WORST congressmen in our history.

    Would someone tell me, please, what important piece of legislation Henry Waxman has ever initiated and had passed – good or bad?

    I certainly can’t think of one.

    All he wants to do is get his name and face on the daily news shows with these STUPID investigations – nothing more or less than simple political pay back, in my humble opinion.

    Secretary Doan should stand up to the jerk and not let him get away with this continual grandstanding.

    Thanks,

    Ken T.

  2. Pat Patterson says:

    I am certainly not a fan of Rep. Waxman however I think he deserves some slack for two reasons. First, his legislative history is thin so he can’t be blamed for too many bad laws.. The second, and the most important, is that he holds the government, the executive branch accountable. Which I think is the more important than a constant stream of partisan legislation.

    I would rather a congressman crucifying someone either from the executive branch or an executive from a business than sitting up nights figuring out ways to improve me.

  3. Jadegold says:

    Thanks for the laughs.

    I find it amusing that you couldn’t muster the wherewithal or honesty to reference the OSC’s guidance on the Hatch Act.

  4. Jack says:

    Ken, You are right about Waxman.

    Good Friend Rich Gallen, reminds us that, ” A poll taken on behalf of the LA Times and Bloomberg News Service asked how Nancy Pelosi’s Congress is doing its job. Approve: 27%. Disapprove: 65%.

    The clue to this was in the next question: “Do you think Democrats are working hard to bring fundamental change” to the way Congress works or is it “business as usual?” The answer was 29% thought the Dems were trying to bring change, but 63% thought it is business as usual.”

    http://www.mullings.com/

    The Congress approval polls are even lower than the President’s — who would have thought that possible?

    And then there’s the $90,000 in cash in Democrat William Jefferson’s freezer — that’s unusual…even for Louisiana politics.

    Jack

  5. Jack says:

    Pat, yes it is good that Waxman’s time is consumed in anything other than the liberal compusive disorder to social engineer everyone’s personal lives.

    But I do wish Waxman’s affections were not diverted to “improving” Lurita Doan. But of course the real target is Karl Rove. Whom Democrats love to hate.

    Tom Davis, from my beloved Commonwealth of Virginia, sums it all best:

    “Statement of Ranking Member Tom Davis

    Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing

    “New Allegations Against GSA Administrator Lurita Doan:

    Retaliation Against Government Officials Cooperating with Investigators”

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    With all due respect, I cannot for the life of me figure out what we’re doing here this morning.

    The Committee and its many subcommittees hold just one hearing this week, and this is the topic we’ve chosen? Somehow, somewhere, we’ve lost track of the “good government” agenda we pledged to pursue.

    The Majority says they are concerned about “retaliation” against government officials who have cooperated with investigators. But no such retaliation occurred. The real retaliation here is against an entrepreneurial African-American woman who – stop the presses — supports the Administration and is paying the price for trying to make her organization a better, more efficient and effective place.

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

    There are so many flaws and injustices and fabrications here, I hardly know where to begin. So let me just reel off a few:

    Administrator Doan was obligated to cooperate with investigators when she made the comments the Chairman just described. She was compelled to say what she believed. And she did so after assurances of confidentiality were given to her by OSC lawyers.

    Nevertheless, before the Administrator had a chance to respond to the OSC report, a draft version was given to the Washington Post – a version that only OSC possessed and only OSC could have leaked.

    I think it’s preposterous that we are again inserting ourselves into unfinished proceedings – this time, an unresolved OSC matter. But if that’s our choice, then our time would be far better spent looking at the unfair investigation OSC conducted and the special legal reasoning in the OSC report.

    Lurita Doan was not afforded basic due process rights, such as an opportunity to review the testimony submitted against her. Until this week, she was denied access to the transcript of her own ten hours of testimony to OSC investigators.

    The OSC report is remarkably harsh and hyperbolic, and extremely short on support. The report cites no evidence. There are not footnotes, no exhibits. OSC says they “interviewed over 20 individuals in attendance” at the Jennings presentation. But the report quotes testimony from zero attendees. Why didn’t they talk to all attendees? How did they choose?

    The shoddy evidentiary support is reflected in the report’s Hatch Act analysis. The report fails to identify a single election or candidate Administrator Doan sought to assist. The report asserts, without any analysis or finding, that her statement — “How can we help our candidates?” — solicited or directed employees to engage in partisan political activity. Yet not one employee responded with any proposal to help any candidate or any election.

    How then is her question, in itself, a solicitation? What if the question was heard to mean, “What can we do legally to help our candidates?” A 2002 opinion by the same Office of Special Counsel advised, “The Hatch Act does not purport to prohibit all discourse by federal employees on political subjects or candidates in a federal building or while on duty.” Yet Administrator Doan’s offhand comment, without any follow-up action, is found to be a solicitation? By that standard, saying “God Bless America” at work would be a violation of the Establishment Clause.

    It’s clear OSC recognized they were short on evidence. So they resorted instead to absurd hyperbole. “One can imagine no greater violation of the Hatch Act,” the report reads. I can.

    OSC clearly lacks imagination. How about an employee who actually uses a government e-mail system to send campaign materials, something the MSPB considered this past December in Special Counsel v. Wilkinson? Or, what about making fundraising calls from the Office of the Vice President?

    In this OSC report, we’re left only with pejorative adjectives like “pernicious,” without any nouns – in other words, facts – to support sweeping legal conclusions. No cases cited. No “controlling legal authority” relied upon.

    I think the Majority recognizes how tenuous the Hatch Act case is as well. They realize what we’re witnessing is an Office of Special Counsel eager to rehabilitate and vindicate itself. And they realize the other issues that originally bought Administrator Doan a summons from the Committee – remember, it wasn’t that long ago we were talking about a Federal Supply Schedule contract held by Sun Microsystems, the suspension and debarment process, and a contemplated contract with a diversity consulting company – those issues bore no political fruit. They were, apparently, dropped.

    But the Hatch Act! How juicy. How convenient. How short a hop, skip, and jump to the office of Karl Rove.

    I’m just not buying the alleged premise of today’s hearing. No one is more concerned than I about protecting the institutional integrity of this Committee, and the ability of witnesses to give us the information we need without reprisal. But that’s not why we’re here today.

    After all, if the Majority was so concerned about the integrity of testimony before the Committee, there are other witnesses who should appear to explain their testimony.

    Valerie Plame Wilson’s sworn statements to this Committee are irreconcilably inconsistent with her statements to the CIA Inspector General and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    The GSA Inspector General testified before this Committee that he relied on information from the Majority’s website to support a key finding in his earlier report on the GSA Administrator.

    The legitimacy of the Committee’s work is at stake if we do not question the testimony of those witnesses. I’m concerned the Committee is becoming a place where witnesses can testify with impunity as long as they say whatever fits the Democrats’ political agenda.

    I think we also need to carefully consider the undue influence this Committee, and attendant media reports and leaks, have had on the OSC proceedings against Administrator Doan. During their questioning of the Administrator, OSC’s own lawyers acknowledged the Committee’s previous hearing tainted their proceedings, as it became impossible to determine whether witnesses were influenced by press coverage of that hearing.

    Finally, Mr. Chairman, you say we’re here to protect federal employees. Then why are you demanding personnel files and giving further air time to what the Administrator said about GSA employees? Why are we meeting in public? Remember, Administrator Doan thought her testimony about these individuals would remain confidential. It’s only through OSC media leaks and your hearing today that these employees are truly being damaged.

    The truth is, I think Administrator Doan’s testimony before us in March could have been a lot stronger. I think she was ill-prepared. And I think she could have chosen her words to the OSC more carefully.

    But I also think that the Committee and OSC are guilty of grossly overplaying their hands in response to her inelegant truthfulness and good faith.

    I urge you, Mr. Chairman, to refocus the Committee’s time and resources on the countless issues demanding our attention. REAL ID implementation. Information security. Border control. Emergency preparedness in the nation’s capital. Security clearance backlogs. The list goes on and on…

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

  6. Jack says:

    Dear Jadegold, thank you for proving my argument. Whenever a liberal retreats to ad hominem, I know that I have won, again.

    You liberals simply cannot help yourselves.

    Your Business Blogger sat down with Lurita Doan and talked about her challenges in running a large agency. One of the issues that all government appointees face is of multiple points of accountability — boss, peers, staff, press, customers, legislators, investigators…bloggers.

    But whatever her faults, or indeed of Your (humble) Business Blogger, questioning her sincerity or my honesty proves that liberals have ceded the argument, using slander instead of reasoned debate. Jadegold, you read like, well, a blogger…

    Here’s Doan’s response:

    STATEMENT OF LURITA DOAN ADMINISTRATOR

    U.S. GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION

    BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM

    U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

    JUNE 13, 2007

    STATEMENT BY LURITA DOAN

    ADMINISTRATOR OF GENERAL SERVICES

    BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM

    U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

    JUNE 13, 2007

    Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Davis, and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the invitation to appear before you today to address the matters raised in your May 24, 2007 invitation.

    I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary at the General Services Administration. It has been an extraordinary 12 months marked by a number of accomplishments attributable to the many dedicated GSA employees’ efforts and commitment to a culture of action and performance improvement. GSA has:

    • Regained our clean audit and eliminated many non–performing programs saving millions of taxpayer dollars;

    • Stood up a new Office of Emergency Response and Recovery (OERR) to better help in times of disasters;

    • Rekindled entrepreneurial energies throughout GSA and restored the confidence in GSA by our two largest customers (the Defense Department and the Judiciary);

    • Reduced the time to award contracts by three months;

    • Successfully executed the largest reorganization in the history of GSA; and

    • Launched a government-wide acquisition contract to provide the people who have sacrificed so much for our country, our nation’s service disabled veterans, more opportunities to do business with the federal government.

    And, these are only a few of GSA’s achievements – achievements that have, at times, been overshadowed by allegations against me. I will continue to fight for fairness as these allegations are considered and resolved.

    In some instances, the allegations simply have been untrue. In others, I made mistakes and said so. In still others, the allegations have not been presented in fair, accurate, and complete context.

    As I have said since my first days as Administrator, there is no greater asset at GSA than its employees. However, the leak of the Office of Special Counsel report has had serious consequences for people other than me, and it will have an impact on my testimony today.

    My answers to OSC investigator questions regarding employees’ performance were made with the expectation that identifying information about those discussed was to be treated confidentially, and because I wanted to be fully cooperative with the OSC investigation team.

    Nevertheless, the second report leaked to the press was in unredacted form. That is, no effort had been made to maintain the confidentiality of the identities of individuals referred to in the report before it was leaked.

    Thus, the candid comments I made under oath and with the expectation of confidentiality by the investigators have been disseminated well beyond the bounds of the report.

    The leak of carefully selected portions of these statements has caused damage enough to these individuals, and I prefer not to aggravate the situation further by further public discussion that would be unfair to those employees who are innocent victims of the OSC report that was leaked.

    I am sorry that the investigation into allegations against me has resulted in the release of sensitive information regarding the work of these employees. I never intended or imagined that this information would be carelessly made public by others, and I sincerely regret any unintended consequences that may have resulted.

    It is so very sad that people, good people, who have decided to devote some part of their life to serving the government, have had to undergo a public discussion of their performance for no good reason.

    They and their families do not deserve to be dragged into this political battle and it will just be another disincentive, of which there are many, to work in government.

    For these reasons, I would like to refrain from publicly discussing performance or other employment or personnel information about any particular individuals in my testimony.

    It is important to note that these performance evaluations occurred prior to the January 26th meeting. I would appreciate the Committee’s understanding and agreement on this point.

    I believe a basic misunderstanding of my motives lies at the core of at least some of these allegations. While I have been aggressive in my pursuit of better government, in insisting upon increased opportunities for small, minority, women, veteran and disadvantaged businesses, and in trying to bring GSA together as a team, I have not always made my motives clear.

    None of my actions, however, has been intended for or resulted in personal or partisan political gain.

    Working at GSA and for the federal government is new to me. Many of the business protocols and simple ways of attacking everyday problems that were so familiar to me are not the same in the Federal Government.

    There has been a learning curve for me – and believe me – I’ve learned and embraced this new environment and will continually strive to improve. One of the best things about me is that I am direct, that I speak bluntly, that I don’t sugar coat anything. Of course, that’s probably also one of the worst things about me.

    With respect to recent inquiries surrounding an alleged Hatch Act violation and the report of the Office of Special Counsel, I have responded in detail explaining why the report is deficient and why the investigation lacked objectivity, impartiality, and fairness. I have not been permitted to review witness statements, even with the witnesses’ identifying information deleted.

    Although the Office of Special Counsel provided me a compact disc recording of approximately 8 hours of my testimony, that office refused to provide me with a copy of the written transcript of my own testimony until just a few days ago, after the report went to the President and to this Committee.

    Further, although, at times, I might have spoken too freely during a 9 hour deposition, these statements have been mischaracterized.

    I have never accused nor intended to accuse any one of maliciously trying to mislead or lie to the Office of Special Counsel or Congress. Characterizations of that sort are simple not true.

    An opportunity to review the witnesses’ testimony is particularly important. At least some of the witnesses interviewed were exposed to the significant press coverage of the meeting and some were subject to prior questioning on this issue by the staff of this Committee.

    I believe that fairness requires that I have some opportunity to examine whether the testimony of any of these witnesses may have been affected by one or both of these factors. Lastly with respect to the report and the handling of it by the Office of Special Counsel, I must reiterate my deep disappointment and outrage that the report was leaked to the press before I had any opportunity to respond in my own defense.

    In fact, before I had even received the report, an article about it had been posted online. A copy of a draft of the report and the final versions were posted online shortly thereafter. This circumstance, as well as the manner in which the investigation was pursued and the report written, only compounds the unfairness of a process which should be above reproach.

    I have delivered my response to the OSC report. The report has been delivered to the President. If I violated the Hatch Act, and I do not believe I did, it is for the President to decide. I serve proudly at the pleasure of the President and I await his decision.

    Also, let me assure this committee, without any caveats and in the simplest and most straightforward way I can, I have supported and will continue to support any GSA employees fully and honestly cooperating with Congress or any investigation.

    I am grateful for this opportunity to serve and am excited about the successes GSA has had. We have built a strong team of both career and non-career employees at GSA, and I believe that we are laying the groundwork for a successful future for this generation of GSA employees, and for those who will follow in the years to come. The innovative organization we are building is good for our government and good for our country.

    Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Davis and Members of the Committee, I hope my appearance here today will answer any questions you might have and will set the record straight. We intend to continue to cooperate to the fullest because we believe a full airing of the issues will help set the record straight.

    Thank you and I look forward to working with this Committee to further enhance the services and products that GSA provides to the taxpayers. I look forward to answering any questions you might have.

  7. Jadegold says:

    [ I ]…question … your honesty…

  8. Tom says:

    Please accurately present facts, in particular the provisions of the Hatch Act. You clearly omit the prohibitions relevant to Ms. Doan’s violation: that no employee may engage in political activity while on duty or in a government office. The Hatch Act prohibits far more than the 3 actions you list above.

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