Editorial: Stating the obvious

Define government's business as the people's business.

Amid all the talk about the Hatch Act, the General Services Administration and GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, it seems like a prime opportunity for leaders to explicitly state what should be obvious: Government agencies must not be used as partisan political tools.

Unfortunately, that important principle seems to have been lost in all the hubbub.

We are not naive. We understand that ethical issues are not always clear-cut. That is particularly true today in Washington, which has become hypersensitive to ethical lapses — real or perceived. We have been critical of those who use the issue of ethics as a club in a political war.

But it is important that government agencies, which have so much influence over people’s lives, not become the militia in a partisan political war. The Hatch Act of 1939, which restricted the political activities of federal employees, was passed with that in mind.

Given the information presented so far, we continue to give Doan the benefit of the doubt. By all accounts, Doan did not plan the Jan. 26 meeting at which White House political advisers provided information about the November 2006 midterm elections and talked about the upcoming 2008 elections. The PowerPoint slides used in the presentation included a list of 2008 Democratic targets and a list of vulnerable Republicans. Doan said she arrived late to the meeting and was distracted during it.

Yes, Doan is a Republican who has given money to Republican candidates in the past. We don’t have a problem with that. Presidents should be able to name their leadership teams.

The business of government, however, should not be about preserving a partisan political power base.

Unfortunately, Doan’s troubles could have turned into an opportunity to highlight the importance of the Hatch Act and the nonpartisan nature of government business. Equally unfortunately, Doan has decided to launch a quixotic fight, which only tarnishes GSA and the important work the agency does.

There are many honorable wars worth waging. This is not one of them. Instead, let’s use Doan’s troubles as an opportunity to reassert that the purpose of government agencies is to do the people’s business.

Sometimes it’s important to state the obvious.