By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
A powerful House committee chairman released new details yesterday about a widening investigation into allegations of "improper conduct" by the chief of the U.S. General Services Administration.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), head of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said his investigators had obtained information that raises "further questions" about GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan's efforts to give a no-bid job to a longtime friend and professional associate.
Waxman also revealed new allegations that Doan "asked GSA officials in a January teleconference how the agency could be used to help Republican candidates," in possible violation of federal law.
He invited Doan to testify before his panel on March 20.
"You should be a model for integrity in contracting," Waxman said in his 10-page letter to Doan. "For this reason, I want to give you a chance to respond to allegations of improper conduct that have surfaced recently."
The GSA released a statement yesterday on Doan's behalf:
"The Administrator looks forward to meeting with Chairman Waxman and his committee on the 20th to discuss GSA. As always, GSA will cooperate fully with the committee. It is inappropriate, however, for GSA to comment further on the upcoming Congressional hearing."
In the letter, Waxman said his investigators learned that the GSA's former chief counsel "was alarmed" that the $20,000 job Doan had given on July 25 to companies run by her friend Edie Fraser had not been put out for bidding. The job was to produce a 24-page report on the GSA's use of minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
Alan R. Swendiman, now a special assistant to President Bush, stated to committee investigators "that he had never seen any GSA administrator personally award a contract, that it was highly irregular, and that he had serious concerns about its propriety and legality."
Waxman's letter follows a January report in The Washington Post that described the no-bid arrangement and Doan's ongoing disputes with her agency's inspector general's office. As GSA head, Doan presides over the government's largest broker of goods and services, which manages $56 billion in contracts.
The no-bid arrangement was terminated on Aug. 4 after GSA lawyers and other agency officials noted that it violated procurement rules.
Waxman's committee launched its investigation in January. Investigators obtained documents showing that the relationship between Doan and Fraser was more involved than previously known.
In an earlier interview with The Post, Doan described her authorization of the no-bid job with the companies run by Fraser as a simple mistake. The GSA last month sent a letter to Waxman's committee strongly defending Doan and saying that her actions were not improper.
Doan has been embroiled for months in disputes over her leadership of the agency. Soon after taking office last May, she clashed with the inspector general's office over its budget.
Last summer, the inspector general began examining the no-bid arrangement between Doan and the companies run by Fraser, Diversity Best Practices and Business Women's Network.
Doan said the allegations against her stem from her budget dispute with the inspector general's office. She maintained in the interview that she signed paperwork approving the no-bid job and "handed this off and then that was the last that I worried about it."
But Waxman's investigators found that Doan "persisted in efforts to award the contract to Ms. Fraser after questions were raised about its validity." Swendiman, then the GSA's general counsel, told committee investigators that as soon as he saw the paperwork, "he immediately and repeatedly advised that the contract be terminated, but he was unable to convince" Doan to do so, Waxman's letter said.
Swendiman told committee investigators that he gave Doan a letter terminating the arrangement, but that Doan did not sign it. "Ultimately, Mr. Swendiman said he had to take matters into his own hands . . . he directed the appropriate contracting officer to sign the termination letter without waiting for your approval," Waxman's letter to Doan said.
The letter said committee investigators had found e-mails providing evidence that Doan continued to "encourage" her staff to "devise a mechanism for awarding a contract" to companies run by Fraser after the arrangement was terminated on Aug. 4.
That same day, Doan requested a "point person to move this forward," in discussions with her chief of staff, John F. Phelps, according to an e-mail cited by the committee.
"Contrary to your public assertions that no further action was taken on this matter, you joked to Mr. Phelps about your staff's continuing efforts to advance Ms. Fraser's interests: 'I think we have quite a few cooks now stirring this broth,' " Waxman said in his letter.
Doan's relationship with Fraser began when Doan was the president of New Technology Management Inc., a Reston-based company that sold surveillance gear and had government contracts worth more than $200 million. In 2003, Doan retained Fraser to promote her and her company.
From 2003 to 2005, Doan paid "at least $417,500 to companies affiliated with Ms. Fraser before you became GSA Administrator, including approximately $320,000 in management consulting fees and $97,500 in corporate and personal sponsorship of events produced by Ms. Fraser's firm," Waxman's letter said.
Fraser continued working closely with Doan before and after Doan assumed office last May, records cited by the committee show. Two weeks after her confirmation, Fraser wrote Doan an e-mail with the subject line: "Checklist for GSA and Lurita," according to a document obtained by the committee and The Post.
In that e-mail, Fraser suggested the names of corporate executives that Doan should meet. She also offered Doan advice about the GSA's Web site and indicated that she was already in talks with GSA officials about the diversity report, even though the agreement for the work would not be signed until nearly two months later, on July 25.
After the no-bid arrangement was terminated, Fraser sent another e-mail to Doan:
"Lurita, I will do anything for you and will do for the rest of my life," Fraser wrote to Doan on Sept. 6. "Bottom line, want relationship with GSA and will keep delivering as you know. But I have spent so much time at GSA from the report planning to these sessions with ZERO $$ How do we solve . . ."
Through an attorney, Fraser said she did nothing wrong in her work with Doan. "She is outraged by the suggestion that she has done anything unlawful or unethical in dealing with the GSA or Lurita Doan," her attorney, Jonathan N. Rosen, said in a previous statement. "Any such suggestion is not supported by any facts and is contradicted by her lifetime of advocacy in the service of others."
Fraser has stepped down as chief executive of the firms, according to a statement issued on Monday by Working Mother Media Inc., their parent company.
Waxman said he also wants to question Doan about a Jan. 26 teleconference she had with her senior staff and 40 of the agency's political appointees stationed around the country. During the call, Doan allegedly asked "how the agency could help 'our candidates' in the next elections," Waxman's letter said, citing "multiple sources." Committee investigators said one regional GSA administrator described "an effort to exclude House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from an upcoming opening of an environmentally efficient 'green' courthouse in San Francisco."
Regarding a different courthouse opening in Florida, Doan "noted that former President Bill Clinton had expressed interest in attending," and "stated that an effort should be made to get Senator Mel Martinez, the General Chairman of the Republican National Committee, to attend," the letter said.
Under the federal Hatch Act, executive branch officials are prohibited from "engaging in partisan politics while on duty, in official government work space, or with government equipment," Waxman said in the letter.
"It would be an obvious abuse if you suggested to agency officials that the activities of the agency be manipulated to provide political advantages to Republican candidates," he wrote.