GSA Chief Scrutinized For Deal With Friend
Friday, January 19, 2007
The chief of the U.S. General Services Administration attempted to give a no-bid contract to a company founded and operated by a longtime friend, sidestepping federal laws and regulations, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan, a former government contractor appointed by President Bush, personally signed the deal to pay a division of her friend's public relations firm $20,000 for a 24-page report promoting the GSA's use of minority- and woman-owned businesses, the documents show.
The contract was terminated last summer after GSA lawyers and other agency officials pointed out possible procurement violations, including the failure to adequately justify the no-bid deal or have it reviewed in advance by trained procurement officers, officials said.
The GSA's Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into the episode and briefed Justice Department lawyers, according to sources who said they were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation. Officials at the inspector general's office and the Justice Department declined to comment.
In an interview Wednesday, Doan said she believed she was following proper procedures to hire the best firm available to quickly produce a report on diversity practices.
"I made a mistake," Doan said. "I thought I was moving this along. I was immediately informed that I wasn't necessarily moving it along in the way that was best for it. So at which point they canceled it, life went on, no money exchanged hands, no contract exchanged hands.
"I'm stunned, absolutely stunned by the amount of legs that this has taken, you know, how this has like kind of jumped up and run away with things."
The friend, public relations executive Edie Fraser, declined to comment.
"I can't," Fraser said. "I just admire her immensely."
Since assuming the helm of the GSA in May, Doan has repeatedly clashed with others within the agency over her intervention in matters that previous administrators delegated to subordinates, in part to avoid the appearance of political influence. The GSA is the largest broker of goods and services for the federal government, managing nearly $56 billion worth of contracts a year.
Last month, a dispute between Doan and her own inspector general's office became public when The Post reported that she had proposed curtailing the office's contract audits and had compared its enforcement efforts to "terrorism." Doan said she was interested in cutting wasteful spending by the agency and denied making the comparison.
Doan, 49, is a rising political star in the Republican Party who hit turbulence soon after she took over the GSA. She grew up in the downtrodden Ninth Ward section of New Orleans and was one of the first African American children to attend the city's private schools. She later went to Vassar College and obtained an advanced degree in Renaissance literature from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.