Office of Special Counsel recommends disciplinary action against Doan

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan violated the Hatch Act during a Jan. 26 political briefing, an OSC report finds.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:40 a.m. May 24, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

Lurita Doan’s tenure as the General Services Administration’s administrator seems to be in serious jeopardy. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said Doan violated the Hatch Act, and the decision of whether she remains head of the federal agency now is in President Bush’s hands.

Special Counsel Scott Bloch submitted his report, obtained by Federal Computer Week, to Doan May 21 for her comment. In it, he lays out her consistent contradictions of events surrounding a Jan. 26 political briefing by J. Scott Jennings to 30 GSA political appointees. Toward the end of the meeting, OSC  contends, as do numerous attendees interviewed by investigators, that Doan asked a simple but troubling question: “How can we help our candidates?”

Those six words, or some derivation of them, could cost Doan her job. The report shows in stark detail the doubts swirling around Doan’s denials of what happened and whether she did anything wrong.

“The facts of this case establish that Administrator Doan violated the Hatch Act,” the report states. “Considering the context in which Ms. Doan posed this question, it is clear that her question was an activity directed toward the success of the Republican Party and Republican candidates. It was inherently coercive for administrator Doan to ask and/or encourage her subordinates to engage in political activity.”

Doan has until June 1 to respond to OSC’s report before Bloch sends it to the White House.

A GSA spokesman issued the following statement May 23 in response to FCW's request for a comment: "The administrator is again disappointed [about ] the failure to protect what remains an ongoing and confidential process. It would be inappropriate for the administrator to comment on the investigation until the process has been completed."

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan activity on federal property and during work hours.

Bloch also said in the report that Doan “displayed no reservations in her willingness to commit GSA resources, including its human capital, to the Republican Party. Her actions, to be certain, constitute an obvious misuse of her official authority and were made for the purpose of affecting the results of an election.”

Because Doan is a political appointee, Bloch said he will recommend to Bush that he take disciplinary action against her for violating the Hatch Act. Bloch does not, however, say what that action could be.

A government source said things look bleak for Doan with Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank and a former deputy secretary of Defense, stepping down recently and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also in serious trouble.

Some observers have speculated Bush could cut his losses by firing Doan, thereby giving Democrats a sacrificial lamb and hoping Gonzales can wait out the pressure.

OSC’s report shows Doan’s inconsistencies in trying to explain the Jan. 26 meeting and the alleged comment she made about helping Republican candidates.

Doan contends, under oath, that she asked how GSA could help the Cabinet liaison get Bush to attend a GSA building opening in San Francisco. She said Jennings responded by suggesting that the agency submit a one-page summary of why the event is important.

But none of the attendees, including Jennings, remembers her asking that, the report states.

“OSC interviewed over 20 individuals who attended the Jan. 26 meeting, [and] none…corroborated Administrator Doan’s account of the alleged comments she made after Mr. Jennings’ presentation,” the report states. “Indeed, none of the witnesses, including Mr. Jennings, testified that [s]he remembered any comments about GSA’s Cabinet liaison or any reference to a written briefing, ‘white paper’ or ‘one-pager’ for the White House.”

In another inconsistency, Doan said she doesn’t care about politics or polls and only attended the meetings to support the White House. Yet she can’t explain why she gave $226,000 to the Republican candidates and organizations in the past five years, the report states.

Doan also told OSC she didn’t pay much attention during the briefing because she was answering e-mail messages on her BlackBerry. But OSC obtained Doan’s personal and government e-mails and found no evidence that she sent any messages during the 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. meeting.

“The documentation establishes that Ms. Doan received nine e-mail messages to her private e-mail account on Jan. 26, 2007, with the latest one received at 1:08 p.m.,” the report states. “The documentation Ms. Doan provided concerning her private e-mail account did not establish that she sent, read, composed, deleted or moved any messages during the January meeting.”

OSC also found that Doan’s only sent e-mail record Jan. 26 was at 7:53 a.m. and then another one Jan. 27 at 1:36 p.m.

“Thus despite our efforts, OSC was unable to corroborate that Administrator Doan was utilizing her BlackBerry or other personal digital assistant during the Jan. 26 meeting,” the report states.

Another inconsistency in Doan’s claims is that these allegations are being brought forward by former or current employees seeking revenge against her. Doan told OSC investigators that every employee who received a poor performance evaluation and was either demoted or forced to leave the agency.

She specifically pointed to Emily Murphy, GSA’s former chief acquisition officer. Doan said Murphy’s performance was “known widely throughout the federal government as an absolute disaster, and she has been a failure in her role at GSA.”

But when OSC investigators reviewed the employees’ performance evaluations, including Murphy’s, all received grades indicating they were at least meeting expectations — many were performing well above expectations and received pay increases or cash bonuses, the report states.

“In summary, none of the performance reviews indicates that any of the witnesses who provided testimony adverse to Ms. Doan were poor or totally inferior performers as she alleged,” according to the report. “[I]t is troubling that administrator Doan made the above unsubstantiated allegations during an official investigation of her actions. It arguably indicates a willingness on her part not only to use her position in a way that is threatening to anyone who would come forward but also suggests a willingness to retaliate against anyone who would be so ‘disloyal’ as to tell the truth about a matter she confesses she does not remember.”