One (Non-Isolated) Example of the Current State of Affairs in Government Administration

From GovExec.com:

Special counsel finds GSA chief violated Hatch Act

By Daniel Pulliam [email protected] May 23, 2007

A report from the federal agency that investigates allegations of illegal political activity in the government has concluded that Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration, violated the Hatch Act.

The 21-page report from Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel, has not been made public, but the independent agency sent Doan a copy for her review on Friday, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The facts gathered by OSC investigators “establish that Administrator Doan violated the Hatch Act,” by inducing “her subordinates to engage in the type of political brainstorming session that is prohibited from occurring while the political appointees are on duty or in a federal workplace,” the May 18 report, obtained by Government Executive Wednesday, stated.

“I have determined that you violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using your official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election when you solicited over 30 subordinate employees to engage in political activity,” Bloch wrote in a cover letter to the report.

In a statement Wednesday, Doan said she disagreed with the report’s preliminary findings, calling it a “staff-drafted report.” “I have concerns with the leaps in logic and the many inaccuracies contained in it, such as an error as simple as citing a nonexistent employee in my office,” Doan said. “I have an opportunity, which I will take, to work with the Office of Special Counsel to correct the many inaccuracies before the final report is issued.”

Doan later revised her statement, excluding the remark about the nonexistent employee in her office, but reiterating that she disagrees with the report’s preliminary findings. OSC will not comment on the report until Doan has submitted a response, a spokesman said. “We believe she should be given that opportunity,” he said.

Doan has until June 1 to respond. OSC investigators will review her comments and deliver a final report to President Bush, since she is a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate. A White House spokeswoman said that since they have not seen the report, they cannot comment.

The Hatch Act limits political activity in government agencies. OSC’s investigation focused on Doan’s role in a Jan. 26 meeting at GSA headquarters where Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president and a deputy of Karl Rove, showed a 28-slide PowerPoint presentation to more than 30 GSA political appointees that analyzed the results of the 2006 midterm election.

Several of the political appointees who attended the meeting testified that during a question-and-answer period following the presentation, Doan asked how the agency could help Republican candidates. The exact words Doan used differ among the witnesses according to the OSC report, but the investigators said in the report that this did not prevent them from determining her intent. “One can imagine no greater violation of the Hatch Act than to invoke the machinery of an agency, with all its contracts and buildings, in the service of a partisan campaign to retake Congress and the governors’ mansions,” the report stated.

Doan has said she does not remember making the statement in question.
According to the report, Doan said during a May 3 interview with OSC, “I do find it highly disturbing that some of the most vocal proponents or the most articulate speaking out against me are also the people who are people I’ve either moved on or they are, I don’t want to say permanently demoted but they’re kind of, until extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs, they will not be getting promoted and they will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature.”

But in looking at the performance reviews of seven employees who had provided information to House lawmakers about Doan’s alleged statements, OSC found that Doan’s claim regarding the witnesses “appears to have been purposefully misleading and false” since none of the seven employees had “between a poor to totally inferior performance.”

“Administrator Doan’s implication that the adverse witnesses were biased against her simply is not credible,” the report stated. “[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.”

Doan also told OSC investigators that she does not remember any of the slides from the presentation because she was using her BlackBerry and only periodically looked up, but an OSC review of her e-mail use during that time failed to corroborate that she was using her BlackBerry or any other personal digital assistant during the meeting.

In sworn testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on March 28, Doan said she would not answer questions about whether she thought the meeting was appropriate and would let OSC “make their independent judgment and I will live with it.”

“I am happy to leave the investigation and the decision-making to the Office of the Special Counsel,” Doan told the panel. “I’m just going to let the investigation take its course, let them make their decision.”

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15 thoughts on “One (Non-Isolated) Example of the Current State of Affairs in Government Administration

  1. DickF

    Menzie,
    I am not sure where you want to go with this.
    Scott Bloch is the head of the Office of Special Counsel who was nominated by Bush. In the past he was under fire for many of his opinions and decisions expecially as they concern homosexuals.
    Now that he has targeted Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and other Republicans the heat against him is easing.
    Politics is a nasty game and that is true no matter which party you are affiliated with. This particular charge under the Hatch Act can be used against almost anyone in government and often is used to curb political speech.
    This is an inside-the-beltway issue that most Americans could care less about. What are its economic implications?

  2. Jake Miller

    The economic implications are obvious. When you have government agencies filled with partisan hacks over independent workers, you often have less-than-ideal outcomes. This is hardly the first time this Administration’s been accused of using their agencies for political gain over national interest, and this becomes greatly important when you start discussing proper policy alternatives for certain issues.
    For example, think about Mitch Daniels at the OMB saying “Oh no, these tax cuts and this war won’t lead to deficits.” Or what about the editing of scientists on reports dealing with climate change? When you have officials more concerned with electoral gain over objective analysis and making the tough choices that can make our country better off, the implications can become huge, and we all should care.
    But far too many of us in this country care about who wins and who loses instead of trying to come up with the right answers. This is another of these examples.
    I got your back Menzie! :)

  3. Rich Berger

    Professor Chinn-
    Thanks for a good laugh going into the Memorial Day weekend! I especially enjoyed – “One can imagine no greater violation of the Hatch Act than to invoke the machinery of an agency, with all its contracts and buildings, in the service of a partisan campaign to retake Congress and the governors’ mansions,” the report stated.”
    I’m sure that the Republicans can rest easy knowing that the Doan juggernaut is on their side, with those ‘contracts and buildings’, you know.
    So this is a “non-isolated” example. What is number two? Karl Rove, you are a diabolical genius!

  4. Menzie Chinn

    DickF: The economic implications should be obvious. GSA is an entity that controls approximately $26.8 billion worth of physical and financial assets at the end of FY’06. Consolidated GSA revenues for FY’06 were $16.9 billion. See the GSA Annual Report.

    Rich Berger: I’m glad to have provided you some amusement. However, I do have some other examples. Daniel Safavian. Thomas A. Scully (see here). While I could go on, I’ll stop at Scully, because his actions on their own could have cost us the mountain of impending debt called Medicare Part D.

    Jake Miller and Charlie Stromeyer: Thanks for the additional supporting evidence.

  5. dryfly

    Obama has about as much chance to be elected as a toad. Matter of fact, the Democractic nominee hasn’t even announced yet. Just not for the Democrats, but also for the Republicans.
    That just shows how bad these cast of characters are. 2 will come out of the field and grab it.

  6. DickF

    Professor Chinn,
    If this kind of thing is so important could you fill us in on the details of why Dianne Feinstein was forced to resign from Senate Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee? For the record the committe Feinstein is on has the largest discretionary spending in the federal budget.
    Also I would be curious how you believe a powerpoint presentation to a group of 30 employees concerning the 2006 election will effect the use of the $16.9 billion GSA budget. Especially since this is a Hatch Act violation that has nothing to do with Doan shifting funds to a friend or relative.

  7. Menzie Chinn

    DickF: I don’t have any info on your first question. Hence, I await being enlightened by you.

    I must confess some amazement to your remark that a political appointee suggesting civil service employees direct contracts in such a manner as to enhance Republican reelection probabilities is not of concern. Is this on principle, or is it a matter of it being the GSA? Would it be more alarming if the presentation had taken place at Commerce or Treasury?

  8. Anonymous

    Menzie,
    The Hatch Act is another of those inside politics laws that politicians use against one another in their political battles. My concern with this issue is as I stated in my first post, “almost anyone in government and often is used to curb political speech.” So my answer is that my concern is on principle. First, a mere accusation is not a finding of guilt. Second, unless I am misreading it, the charge against Doan is because of a comment she made in a private conversation after the presentation. No charges have been brought because of the presentation, only over something she said in conversation.
    I have to admit that I am amazed that you do not know about Dianne Feinstein being forced to resign because of her conflict of interest funneling millions of appropriations to her husband. I probably shouldn’t be because these things are only newsworthy when there happen to Republicans. This is not intended to be a slam at you, but I actually thought you were more well read. Did you really not know about Dianne Feinstein’s resignation?
    Excerpt from THE HILL:
    Feinstein?s Cardinal shenanigans
    By David Keene
    April 30, 2007
    Anyone who knows much about real power in Congress knows that almost every member of the House and Senate lusts after a seat on the Appropriations Committee and hopes one day to achieve the status of Cardinal. The Cardinals, of course, are the folks who chair the various Appropriations Committee subcommittees and literally control the billions of dollars that pass through their hands.
    California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) chairs the Senate Rules Committee, but she’s also a Cardinal. She is currently chairwoman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee, but until last year was for six years the top Democrat on the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (or Milcon) sub-committee, where she may have directed more than $1 billion to companies controlled by her husband.
    If the inferences finally coming out about what she did while on Milcon prove true, she may be on the way to morphing from a respected senior Democrat into another poster child for congressional corruption.
    The problems stem from her subcommittee activities from 2001 to late 2005, when she quit. During that period the public record suggests she knowingly took part in decisions that eventually put millions of dollars into her husband’s pocket – the classic conflict of interest that exploited her position and power to channel money to her husband’s companies.
    In other words, it appears Sen. Feinstein was up to her ears in the same sort of shenanigans that landed California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R) in the slammer. Indeed, it may be that the primary difference between the two is basically that Cunningham was a minor leaguer and a lot dumber than his state’s senior senator.
    Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington, or CREW, usually focuses on the ethical lapses of Republicans and conservatives, but even she is appalled at the way Sen. Feinstein has abused her position. Sloan told a California reporter earlier this month that while there are a number of members of Congress with conflicts of interest because of the amount of money involved, Feinstein’s conflict of interest is an order of magnitude greater than those conflicts.
    I would not have brought this up normally because it is only an accusation (thought Feinstein thought it serious enough to resign from one of the top posts in Washington), but since the charges against Doan are only an accusation these cases do seem to be comparable.

  9. Menzie Chinn

    DickF: Thanks for the compliment — I would like to think I am well read, but I have enough self-awareness to know that I’m not. More specifically, I don’t typically read non-economics columnists or op-ed, and only read Roll Call and The Hill when I was briefly involved in Congressional economic policy analysis.

    Be that as it may, I’ll make three observations:

    • These are — as you and the columnist (David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union) point out — merely inferences at this time. I don’t think it’s comparable to the Office of Special Counsel concluding that a violation occurred. I await substantiation of the claims regarding Feinstein (Cunningham and Ney have been found guilty, yes?).
    • I think we should all be concerned about an executive branch political appointee inquiring how the civil service employees under her supervision can assist Republican candidates. That is because the civil service is supposed to be apolitical — or at least that’s my perception. Is it also yours?
    • Finally, in my experience giving seminars in academia and talks in the government and international fora, the “Q&A session” is not usually a private one-on-one, but one for general hearing. And indeed, the articles discusses how several people recounted their recollections. Hence, it was not a private exchange.

    Just to be complete, here’s a section from the Federal Times:

    According to numerous meeting participants, Doan, a Bush appointee, asked after the briefing, “How can we help our candidates?” Doan testified she did not recall saying that and did not recall most of what happened at the meeting because she was busy on her BlackBerry.

    The report says the question initiated a “political brainstorming session.” Doan and Peter Stamison, head of GSA’s Pacific Rim region, discussed how to assure that Republican politicians attended the openings of federal buildings to counter the presence of Democrats, the report says. The discussion ended after Jennings urged taking it “offline.”

    Because it came at a meeting with subordinates, Doan’s question “is a per se violation of [the Hatch Act],” the report states. “It is inherently coercive for Administrator Doan to ask and/or encourage her subordinates to engage in political activity.”

    See also FCW.com, WaPo, follow-up at GovExec.com, particularly with regards to timing of Blackberry emails.

    .

  10. DickF

    Menzie,
    Doan is small potatoes next to Feinstein.
    To illustrate a point let me relate that Feinstein’s resignation is a huge story, much, much more serious than Alberto Gonzales’ assistant Hew Pate leaving to spend time with his family. But Pate’s resignation made all of the major news outlets while Feinstein’s resignation was not even reported. That just couldn’t have anything to do with their political affiliations.
    Feinstein will not suffer any more from her abuse of power. She has resigned so the Democrats can cover her impropriety. They will treat any ethics charges as a moot point since she is no longer in her post. And as a Senator she has a level of protection from investigation that Doan does not have due to the separation of powers.
    The double standard is alive and well in Washington.
    I do not intend to post more on this because it is simply not productive. I could write reams on the abuses during the Clinton Administration but what would it prove? This is all politics not economics.

  11. Rich Berger

    Menzie-
    To move beyond individual cases, isolated or non-isolated, to really measure the level of corruption is a very big task. I would consider some activities, which are technically legal, such as the abuse of earmarks, as to be corrupt. We know of, for example, Republican Sen Ted Stevens and his Bridge to Nowhere, costing $200 million+ and his outrage at other Republicans for trying to stop it. Trent Lott, another Republican, has been trying to bamboozle the public into paying for the relocation of a railroad line, with hundreds of millions at issue. On the other side, Robert Byrd is notorious for transferring the public’s treasure to WV.
    I call earmarks corrupt because they are done secretively and seem to motivated by the desire to reward contributors or curry favor with local constituencies. They lead to taxes being higher than needed, or more worthy projects not being funded.
    For another egregious form of corruption, consider the non-enforcement of the Beck decision, which ruled that union workers have a right to decide how their dues are used for purposes beyond those necessary for the performance of the union’s employee representation duties. I can understand why the Democrats would not be keen to enforce it, but why haven’t the Republicans stepped up? I believe that there are potentially tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. And this is money that has undoubtedly influenced elections.
    The real corruption is institutional and systematic and right in front of you.

  12. DickF

    Menzie,
    I assume to show that you are not biased you will be posting a thread on Rep. William Jefferson’s indictment for bribery.

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