By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 28, 2006; A01
Two months before Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) became chairman of the powerful House Government Reform Committee in January 2003, one of his close friends formed ICG Government, a consulting company for technology firms seeking government contracts.
Donald W. Upson had risen with Davis through the burgeoning Northern Virginia technology community, where they worked side by side as executives at a company that sold computer systems to the government.
Davis went on to Congress, where he became a leading voice on government contracting and an advocate for his technology industry constituents in Fairfax and Prince William counties. Upson became the top technology official for the Virginia government before reentering the private sector and starting ICG.
From the beginning, Upson worked with Davis and his staff as he built his consulting business, which holds seminars on procurement and advises clients on winning government technology contracts worth billions of dollars. Those contracts often came under the oversight of Davis's committee. One of Upson's first hires was Jeannemarie Devolites, a Virginia politician who later married the congressman.
ICG has a record of satisfied clients, who say the firm has provided them with access to the congressman and his staff.
In an opinion issued this week, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct told the congressman that his wife can work for the consulting firm as long as the couple does not personally benefit from any official acts by the congressman. The committee told them to take care to "avoid a claim that you are allowing your official title to be used for private gain."
Davis, 57, acknowledged that Upson, 51, is "a very close confidant and political ally." But the congressman said that Upson did not have "unique access" to his office and that his wife has no business on Capitol Hill. Davis added that he had broken no laws and saw no ethics or disclosure violations.
ICG's relationship with Davis has played out on a number of levels. The firm has arranged for clients to meet with Davis in his congressional office. Upson has set up dinners and receptions with the lawmaker for his clients. And ICG has arranged for clients to testify before Davis's committee. In one case, Upson's team wrote the testimony. Some of those clients, who pay ICG about $8,000 per month, have told The Washington Post that their testimony was a part of marketing strategies developed by ICG to bolster the clients' "clout" and "visibility" on Capitol Hill and with government contracting officials.
On one occasion, Upson helped a client write a threatening letter to the Pentagon that was then sent out with Davis's signature on his committee's letterhead.
Davis's wife, a part-time ICG consultant, has contacted senior government technology officials on behalf of clients, including an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Upson paid her $78,000 last year for working "10 to 20 hours a week," primarily at home on her cellphone, she said. She makes $18,000 a year as a Virginia legislator.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to say that we started to take sides in something in any kind of manner, undue manner, where we used the power of this committee to alter a decision that was against the interests of the American people or the taxpayers," Davis said in a two-hour interview at his Capitol Hill office July 11. "I don't think Don's ever abused this in his relations with me."
Davis said that Upson hired his wife before they were engaged and that she is entitled to earn a living. He said the couple takes steps to ensure that she does not appeal to him on behalf of ICG clients.
Upson's firm is part of a cottage industry of former government officials and others who hire themselves out as "contracting consultants" to firms seeking government work. Although they do some of the same things as lobbyists, they do not register with Congress or publicly report their activities, as lobbyists are required to do.
Federal law generally requires people to register as lobbyists if they approach lawmakers or government officials with the intent to influence the "formulation, modification or adoption" of legislation, regulation or policy. Congress said it passed the law to "increase public confidence in the integrity of Government." Failure to register can result in civil fines.
Unlike lobbyists, contracting consultants such as Upson and Devolites Davis do not publicly disclose their clients' identities because they do not register as lobbyists. They also do not reveal the issues they have handled or the fees they have been paid. But they offer some of the same services traditionally provided by lobbyists.
"The issue is: Are they lobbying?" said Jan Baran, a former general counsel of the Republican National Committee who specializes in lobbying and ethics law. "Their activities strongly resemble what lobbyists here in Washington do every day."
Upson said he had not registered because less than 20 percent of his business is lobbying.
"There have been a limited number of instances when I have had contact with Congress or the Executive Branch in the course of conducting my broader work; but this contact constitutes a small and episodic part of the services ICG has provided its clients," Upson said in a statement. "I have engaged an attorney who is an expert regarding the lobbying statute. He has advised me that such de minimus activities -- an occasional meeting with an Executive branch official or Congressional staff or a draft of a document -- does not require registration."
A day after receiving questions from The Post last week about his business practices and his relationship with Davis, Upson consulted with his attorney and filed a lobbying report disclosing his work on behalf of one of his clients, Juniper Networks Inc. He declined to identify his other clients.A Friend to Contractors
Davis's tenure in Congress has been marked by a series of accomplishments. He enacted the D.C. Financial Control Board Act and urged reforms of the District's troubled child-protection system. Davis has used his committee to hold numerous oversight hearings into issues such as the war against narco-terrorists and the Food and Drug Administration's ability to protect the public from harmful prescription drugs.
Davis also stands as one of the most knowledgeable members on technology issues in Congress.
"I come out of the contracting business," said Davis, a former procurement attorney for two government contractors in Northern Virginia. "I know a lot about it. I litigated this stuff. I obviously have a philosophy and a bent on this that other members don't. But I also have an understanding that goes four decimal points deep."
A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Davis served on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in the 1980s and early 1990s, rising to chairman. He gained a reputation as a moderate, brilliant political strategist.
At the time, Davis also served as corporate attorney for two companies, including PRC Inc., a technology contractor in McLean where Upson worked. In 1994, Davis was elected to Congress to represent Northern Virginia. Upson served as his political adviser.
In Congress, Davis has been a leader in reshaping the nation's procurement system, pressing to overhaul what he considers to be the government's inefficient contracting rules. He has been recognized as a "True Blue Reformer" by Public Citizen, a good-government group, for what his biography calls "his consistently strong support of political and ethics reforms."
But to some, Davis's persona as a reformer does not square with his close relationship with technology corporations, many of them based in Northern Virginia, that have greatly increased their federal contracting business since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In the past five years, technology and telecommunications companies have been the largest contributors to Davis's and his wife's separate campaigns and political action committees. Those companies and their employees have donated more than $1.1 million of the $6.4 million given to the couple's campaigns, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Virginia Public Access Project.
A former top contracting official for the Bush administration who clashed with Davis repeatedly over procurement policy wrote a stinging e-mail about him to her boss in May 2002.
"The businesses in Mr. Davis district are primarily government contractors and he wants to make sure the $$ are free flowing without much regard to the fiscal consequences," said the e-mail written by Angela B. Styles, who was chief of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget at the time.'My Niche'
Devolites Davis, 50, said she made it on her own as a consultant for ICG. She cited her experience as a state lawmaker who has worked for years on technology policy, including anti-spamming legislation and procurement issues in Virginia.
"This is just my area of expertise and my niche," she said in an interview last week. "With a deep interest in technology, math and science, certainly it was something that I came to understand, the business and the industry."
When Devolites Davis joined ICG in 2003, she was listed on the firm's Web site as a senior associate. Her biography on ICG's Web site now lists her as a partner. She said in the interview that she is not a partner but a salaried employee. Her pay rose last year to $6,500 from $4,000 a month.
She said she got a raise "as the company grew and its resources grew."
ICG collected $830,000 in revenue last year, Devolites Davis said. The firm, based in Tysons Corner with an office in Richmond, has seven employees. Upson declined to discuss the firm's finances.
"She has a couple of little clients she does, and she doesn't touch the federal sector," Davis said. "We've tried to put up bars in this case where she doesn't bring anybody up here."
But Devolites Davis told The Post that she does represent clients with interests in the federal sector -- three of her four assignments involve reaching out to federal officials.
Davis's staff director, David Marin, later said the lawmaker "misspoke" because he "is so far removed from Jeannemarie's work at ICG that he did not know exactly who her clients were, what she does for them or who she reaches out to on their behalf. He just knew she has no business before Congress."
Devolites Davis said she does not interact with her husband on ICG business.
"There is a firewall between me and Tom, and I would never take an action that would raise a question of unethical behavior on the part of either Tom or myself as elected officials," she said.
Upson said Devolites Davis has been careful to follow the rules.
"To the best of my knowledge, Jeannemarie has never dealt with Tom Davis or his staff about anything related to ICG or its clients, or any business arrangement not related to ICG," Upson said in his statement. "Jeannemarie works hard for every dollar she is paid."
Devolites Davis said her ICG work is not lobbying because she does not try to influence votes or the awarding of contracts.
"We help make connections so that folks can build relationships on their own," she said, adding that the firm's main business is educating industry and government officials.
After questions from The Post, Davis requested an opinion from the House ethics committee on whether Devolites Davis's work for ICG violates House rules.
"Generally the answer is 'no,' " the committee members said in their response Wednesday. But they told Davis that the rules could be violated if his wife invoked his name or position when "soliciting clients or conducting other activities on behalf of the firm, whether or not the client was previously known to you or your wife."
The committee told Davis that compensation to his wife could be considered indirect compensation to him and that he needs "to bear in mind" that issue when he considers any efforts "that may benefit your wife's business interests." Davis should contact the ethics committee for "particular guidance" about requests to appear at conferences sponsored by ICG that might benefit his wife, the letter said.
Devolites Davis, who has served in the Virginia General Assembly since 1998, worked closely with Davis as she built her political career.
In 1995, the married mother of four decided to run for a seat that became vacant after Davis left the Fairfax board for Congress. She was a mathematics major at the University of Virginia. While running for office, she highlighted her work as a "super volunteer" for the Girl Scouts of the USA, the PTA and other organizations. She lost the race.
Two years later, she ran for the General Assembly and won, with Davis as her campaign manager. Davis began to direct tens of thousands of dollars from political action committees under his control to her campaign. Over the next decade, as she moved from being a delegate to a leader of the Virginia Senate, Davis's political action committees gave her more than $172,000.'They're Door-Openers'
From the start, ICG openly touted its ties to Davis. The firm's Web site featured a photograph of the congressman speaking in front of an ICG banner.
Davis and his current and former staffers have appeared at least 15 times as featured speakers or participants at seminars organized by ICG and affiliated firms at places such as the Ronald Reagan Building in the District or the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton. At least two ICG-organized events were held in the Government Reform Committee chambers.
Some ICG clients said they sponsored the seminars so they could appear as experts alongside Davis, his staff or government officials. The sessions cost as much as $895 per day and cover such topics as Homeland Security contracts or computer security mandates. They are marketed to company executives and government officials, with the latter reimbursed at taxpayer expense by their agencies.
"This is not something we do exclusively for ICG," Davis said in the interview. "I do this routinely for a lot of companies. Okay? And I think the record is very clear on this. If I did this for two or three or a couple of select people, I think you could make a reasonable inference that I am using my office to talk to a select few for pay. But I talk to a lot of groups."
Companies said they were pleased with the services ICG delivered, which included dinners with Davis at upscale steakhouses such as Morton's, receptions with the congressman and his wife, and meetings with senior government officials.
Paul Smith, a sales executive for Red Hat Inc., a software company based in Raleigh, N.C., said ICG and other consultants are an integral part of the contracting business.
"Don't take this wrong, they're doing some influence-peddling," said Smith, adding that Red Hat officials have participated in events organized by ICG. "They're door-openers."
NetSec was among ICG's earliest clients. Ken Ammon, the former president of NetSec, said the Herndon computer security firm turned to ICG and Upson because it was having a tough time selling its services to the government.
NetSec signed a year-long consulting deal with ICG worth close to $100,000 in June 2003. ICG worked with NetSec to craft a "product marketing" plan, Ammon said in an e-mail to The Post. As part of the plan, ICG also pledged to organize one major and four minor events focusing on NetSec's services. At one of the events, Davis was a keynote speaker.
Ammon also testified before Davis's Government Reform Committee in October 2003.
"Our ability to stand before the committee and bring to light what we thought were areas which needed improvement greatly increased our clout with our customer base in government," Ammon said.
Davis said he did not know the executives who testified were ICG clients because those arrangements were made by his staff.
"We're not doing anything in a conscious way to help anybody make a profit," Davis said. "But we want to get good companies up here, and I think it's important to note that companies come up here all the time and meet with us without [Upson] or any representative. And we'll say, 'Do you want to testify?' So, yeah, we do that.
"That doesn't deliver a contract to them. That doesn't get them a nickel from the government. That doesn't put pressure on anybody to hire them. They are simply getting up and telling their story."An Official Letter
Artel Inc., a small satellite service company based in Reston, hired ICG in June 2005 when a federal contract worth up to $2.2 billion over 10 years faced possible termination at the Pentagon, a company official said. The contract, which Artel and two other firms won in 2001, represented nearly 70 percent of Artel's revenue, company officials said.
Congress had requested that the secretary of defense study whether the military could save money on its satellite services. Department of Defense officials were considering a plan to scrap the contract and give the work to larger companies.
Artel's chief executive, Abbas Yazdani, said he hired a registered lobbying firm that included former senator Tim Hutchinson, who arranged a meeting with Davis. Yazdani said he also turned to Upson, who Yazdani said was initially under contract with Artel to work on state and local issues.
Yazdani said in an interview that he needed help because he believed his company was being outmaneuvered by lobbyists representing the larger companies.
Upson sent Hutchinson a memo spelling out steps to stop the contract change by the Pentagon's Defense Information Systems Agency, according to a copy of the e-mail obtained by The Post.
Upson also offered to help craft a letter that could be sent to Davis for his signature.
"He volunteered," Yazdani said. "He said he had some experience."
Several weeks later, Upson, Yazdani, Hutchinson and others were at work on a letter that would be signed by Davis and sent to Charles Croom, the lieutenant general in charge of the satellite program.
"Abbas and I have made edits on the attached, now designated as Ver 3. Most are wordsmithing," Artel executive William Schmidt wrote in an Aug. 9 e-mail to Upson and Hutchinson with the subject line "RE: Draft of Davis letter."
After Upson edited the letter, he replied the following day.
"Here are my changes that I will submit to Ellen in 30 minutes unless stopped in my car with major objections," Upson wrote to the Artel executives and their lobbyists.
"Ellen" is Ellen Brown, Davis's legislative director.
Marin, Davis's staff director, said the office had no record that Brown received that e-mail from Upson.
On Aug. 24, a letter bearing Davis's signature was sent to Croom. Much of the language was identical to the draft prepared by Artel, its lobbyists and Upson.
The two-page letter was clear: It said Davis was concerned about the Pentagon's plan to change the satellite contract.
"It is my intention to fully explore these and related issues in my Committee," the letter to Croom said. "I have requested support from the Government Accountability Office. I urge that further action be withheld."
On Sept. 8, Croom responded to Davis, defending his agency's procurement strategy. A few days later, John Brosnan, a procurement specialist on Davis's committee staff, faxed Croom's letter to Artel's lobbyists.
"I haven't had a chance to talk with John about this, but I should be able to get his feedback tomorrow," a colleague of Hutchinson, the senator-turned-lobbyist, wrote in an e-mail to Artel's executives Sept. 12.
On Oct. 13, Davis signed another letter to Croom. This time, the letter said that "since you have chosen not to provide me with substantive responses to my questions, I will be required to get the information I need in another manner." The letter does not specify what "another manner" meant.
On Feb. 19, Croom and John G. Grimes, the assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, met with Davis in his office for a half-hour, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Four months later, on June 6, the Defense Department released a study that analyzed spending on the satellite contract. The conclusion: The existing contract with Artel and the two other companies was working well and saving the government money.
Croom and Grimes declined to comment for this article. Yazdani declined to disclose how much the company paid ICG.
Yazdani said his dealings with ICG and Davis were proper. "None of the companies needed ICG or Upson to get to anyone in Congress or to Jeannemarie," Yazdani wrote in an e-mail to The Post. "We all had full access to Congressman Davis and had already met with him on more than one occasion."'For the Record, I Didn't Write the Letter'
When asked by The Post about the Aug. 24 letter, Davis professed little knowledge of it and deferred to his staff.
"I don't think you'll find any letters that I write," the congressman said. "The staff writes them all. That doesn't mean I don't mark them up sometimes."
At first, Brosnan, Davis's procurement specialist, said he wrote the letter to Pentagon officials.
"As I recall, they weren't being as responsive as they probably should have been," Brosnan said. "They were kind of jerking me around."
When reporters showed Davis and Brosnan the draft letter, Brosnan acknowledged using the company's draft.
"If I misspoke, I'm sorry," Brosnan said. "But I'm responsible for the letter."
Davis said, "For the record, I didn't write the letter."
Brosnan said Davis's committee had used letters written by companies before, "but not very often."
Davis said that the practice "happens every day up here" and that it did not matter who actually wrote the letter.
"If my signature is on it at the end, I'll stand by it, whether I signed it or they signed it," he said. "But the reality is: So what?"
Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, was among other lawmakers who wrote to the Pentagon expressing concern about the satellite contract. A spokesman for Manzullo said the congressman and his staff wrote their own letters.
Letters sent out on official stationery are never "ghost written" for Manzullo by corporate executives or their lobbyists, spokesman Rich Carter said. "We like to do our own research."
Kenneth A. Gross, former general counsel of the enforcement division at the Federal Election Commission and a specialist in congressional ethics law, said: "Mere reproduction can certainly look bad, but the practice is not legally actionable if the letter, in fact, reflects the views of the member."
Davis said he believed in the sentiments expressed in the letter and said he did not know that Artel was an ICG client. He said that it was Hutchinson who first brought the company's concerns to him and that he was simply sticking up for a local firm.
"You got a company here that thinks they're getting screwed by an agency, okay?" he said. "So we write a letter to the agency asking, 'What's your explanation?' "'The Hearing Was a Deliverable'
In January, ICG and its business partners hosted a gathering of "more than 400 senior executives from the Executive Branch, Congress, state government and industry in a high energy environment" at the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, an ICG Web site said.
Davis, who appeared as a featured speaker, was accompanied by his wife. She later said she helped arrange for government officials to attend the event.
Over three nights and days, political luminaries mingled with senior government officials and industry executives along the Las Vegas strip at the event ICG called "CES Government."
Attending the conference led Juniper Networks to Davis and his committee. Juniper's director of business development, Chris Blake, met Upson in Las Vegas.
In February, Lou Anne Brossman, the public sector marketing director for Juniper, joined Blake and Upson for breakfast at the Hyatt Regency in Reston. In March, Juniper, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and has an office in Herndon, signed a consulting agreement with ICG.
Brossman recalled in a recent interview that her company and ICG began working on an 18-month plan to create a reputation for Juniper in Congress as a "thought leader" on technology issues.
Brossman said Upson suggested that the company would benefit if Juniper chairman and chief executive Scott Kriens became more of a "talking head" on technology issues, such as teleworking. Upson said one way to do that was to testify before Davis's committee, according to Brossman.
On April 19, Upson called a Juniper executive to say that Davis was holding a hearing and that Kriens could be invited to testify. The subject: coping with a possible bird flu pandemic. Upson said Kriens could speak about the benefits of teleworking during a national crisis, Brossman said.
Two days later, officials at Juniper and ICG began to discuss Kriens's testimony, Brossman said. Upson arranged for Kriens and Brossman to meet Davis in his Capitol Hill office the night before the hearing.
"There's no way we would have gotten into his office otherwise for a relaxed five o'clock powwow," Brossman said.
"It's all about relationships and who you know," she said. "ICG knows what's important to the congressman."
On May 11, Kriens testified about "Working Through an Outbreak: Pandemic Flu Planning and Continuity of Operations." In a news release, Davis's staff said the aim was to examine how teleworking and other strategies could help keep the government operating in the event of a flu outbreak.
Brossman said the hearing was the result of a well-executed marketing plan that came with "detailed, expected deliverables."
Said Brossman: "The hearing was a deliverable."
Juniper declined to disclose how much it has paid ICG.
"That kind of puffery happens each and every day in Washington," Marin, Davis's staff director, wrote in a statement to The Post. "That Don [Upson] or his clients might be touting a meeting with Tom as a 'deliverable' is not only out of our control, but beyond our imagination, as access is our business."
Researcher Alice Crites, database editor Derek Willis, and staff writers Renae Merle and James V. Grimaldi contributed to this article.