House Panel Opens Investigation of GSA Chief's Deal With Friend

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 20, 2007

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday opened an investigation into a no-bid contract that the chief of the General Services Administration attempted to give to companies operated by her longtime friend.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) requested documents from GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and others after The Washington Post reported yesterday that Doan had signed a $20,000 deal with her friend's companies for a 24-page report about the procurement agency's use of businesses owned by minorities and women.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking GOP member of the Finance Committee, said it "is infuriating after all the problems in the past at GSA that this administrator would attempt to use tax money to give no-bid contracts to her friends."

The GSA's inspector general's office is conducting its own investigation into the arrangement between Doan and her friend, Edie Fraser, who runs Public Affairs Group Inc. and its divisions, according to sources who said they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation. The deal was terminated in August after agency lawyers and officials raised questions about possible procurement violations.

In three two-page letters issued to Doan, Fraser and the GSA's former general counsel, Waxman demanded an array of records, including "emails, calendars, office visitation logs, meeting notes, and other documents."

Waxman asked Doan and Fraser for a copy of the contract and records of their communications. He asked former GSA general counsel Alan R. Swendiman for a briefing. Swendiman advised Doan to terminate the deal; he has since left the agency for a job at the White House.

The GSA issued a brief statement yesterday saying that Doan received the letter and spoke to Waxman. "As always, GSA will fully cooperate with Congress," the statement said.

In an e-mail to her staff, Doan said: "This incident has already been reviewed and no improprieties have been found."

In a statement yesterday, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he expects the administrator of the GSA "to follow federal procurement regulations" and "possess better judgment than she has shown."

On July 25, two months after taking office, Doan signed the no-bid contract. Doan said in an interview that she "made a mistake."

Doan has had several clashes with GSA officials since taking over the agency in May. She compared the enforcement efforts of her inspector general's office to "terrorism," proposed cutting the budget of that office by $5 million and sought to curtail agency contract audits.

Doan also intervened in an effort to determine whether contractors accused of fraud should be suspended or debarred from doing business with the government. Contracting experts said in interviews that her intervention created the appearance of impropriety.

In the letters issued yesterday, Waxman demanded that Doan turn over documents related to her proposals to cut the inspector general's budget and curtail the contract audits. The letters also requested records pertaining to the debarment proceedings.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company