Sens. Dorgan, Wyden News Conference on GSA Administrator

CQ Transcripts Wire
Monday, April 23, 2007; 3:44 PM

SEN. BYRON L. DORGAN, D-N.D.: Good afternoon. Let me go through a couple of pieces of information, if I might, and make a couple of comments, then call on my colleagues, Senator Wyden, for the same.

Twenty-five United States senators have sent a letter to the White House today asking a series of questions about something that happened on January 26th, 2007.

At that point the deputy White House political director, Scott Jennings, joined a lunchtime meeting of political appointees at the General Services Administration. He made a presentation to them, a political presentation by video conference to, we think, around 40 people around the country.

And this is a portion of his political presentation. This is the front cover of that. It included this, which was designated "2008 House Targets, Top 20," designating Democrats in the U.S. House that they were targeting.

Again, understand this comes from the White House Office of Political Affairs to the General Services Administration appointees.

"2008 House Targets." "2008 House GOP Defense by District." He described for them the battle for the Senate in 2008, showed them a map. Republican offense. Republican defense.

There have been a series of questions raised about this in The Washington Post. In the briefing delivered to other GSA > offices by video conference, they presented a 28-slide PowerPoint analysis of the November election results and the prospects for 2008, identifying the 20 most vulnerable Democrats. According to six people present, < GSA > Administrator Lurita Doan asked the staff what could be done "to help our candidates" -- quote/unquote, "to help our candidates."

She said in a hearing in the U.S. House that she didn't recall such a statement. In fact, she had virtually no memory of the meeting in question.

This is from the Washington Post editorial, which I certainly concur with, and I believe my colleague does as well: "Conducting political briefings on government time, in government offices, using government resources, suggests a disturbing obliviousness to the notion that government should be used to the benefit of all of the people, not just one political party. The White House refused to provide answers -- served only to raise suspicions that this was not just a single misstep."

One of the questions Senator Wyden and I ask, and 25 U.S. senators who have signed our letter to the White House ask is, is this is an isolated incident? In itself -- in and of itself it's serious. But has this kind of briefing been going on at other federal agencies by the political arm of the White House?

This is wholly inappropriate. It is wholly inappropriate for, at a federal agency, the White House to dispatch a briefer to talk about Democratic targets -- that is, targets in the next election -- and to have the administrator of that agency say at the end of the briefing, according to about a half a dozen witnesses who were there, what can we do to, quote, "help our candidates." That's not about good government, that's about bad politics, in my judgment, politics at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

DORGAN: Yes, this is a political town. We all understand that.

But this is not a town in which these kinds of briefings to a federal agency in the middle of the day, using video conferencing, is in any way a good government or appropriate behavior.

Now, 25 senators have joined us in asking basic questions of the White House. We think they are required to answer these questions. They've been ignoring them now for too long.

And let me say for myself -- and Senator Wyden will explain for himself -- I personally believe that the administrator of the < GSA >, Lurita Doan, should be asked for her resignation. I believe the president should ask her to step aside.

This issue and several others demonstrate to me that she misunderstands her role as the administrator of the < GSA >. And I think this is a very, very serious misstep and one that we need to understand more about, first of all, and second, one that I think should cause the president to ask her to step aside.

Senator Wyden?

SEN. RON WYDEN, D-ORE.: Let me just follow up briefly and then Senator Dorgan and I have worked out over the years, and any difficult questions, you give to him, and any softball questions, you give to me.

We're here because we don't think it's right to politicize an agency like this, that handles something like $56 billion worth of government contracts. This is a agency that operates 8,300 government-owned or -leased buildings, 205,000 vehicles around the country, and it plays a critical role in the kinds of services people get across the nation, from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.

I'm an individual who's always felt that the president should get a wide berth in terms of being able to have the people that he wants in these key agencies.

WYDEN: But in an instance like this, where you see one example after another that's simply over the line, that departs from decades of tradition -- for example, with respect to the inspector general, another area where I'm very concerned -- what the administrator of the General Services Administration is doing is trampling on 30 years worth of oversight that's been done by the inspector general.

Literally, in a year, she has tried to unravel a 30-year tradition at the Inspector General's Office, where you try to root out fraud and mismanagement rather than play it down and let it go by the boards.

So the example that we've cited with respect to how the agency is politicized is example number one. The instance of the inspector general is certainly number two. The no-bid contract effort with her personal friends is example number three. And that is why I'm prepared to take a step that I have taken very rarely during my time in public service, and that is I believe this is an individual who should offer her resignation.

In a year she has, again and again, demonstrated that she is not willing to bring the objectivity that is necessary in the management of an agency with this kind of impact on the lives of our taxpayers and the American people.

DORGAN: Any questions?

QUESTION: Are other senators calling for her resignation?

DORGAN: While we are not speaking for other senators, we have sent a letter to the White House on behalf of 25 senators. We've both signed that letter.

DORGAN: That letter asks very significant questions that the American people and the Congress deserve to have answered.

But I can only speak for myself about a resignation. I believe that this administrator has crossed the line. It's a very significant problem, and I believe she should resign. I think Senator Wyden has said he agrees with that.

QUESTION: Why do you two -- what (inaudible) standing do you have, committees and such, that puts you in a position of making this kind of call?

WYDEN: The two of us have made a special effort in our time in the United States Senate to put the spotlight on waste and inefficiency.

For example, we were the first to blow the whistle on the Halliburton contracts. It was our amendment, for example, that saved a significant amount of money, millions and millions of dollars, on the purchases that were made in the energy area for our troops at the start of the Iraqi conflict.

We also blew the whistle on the John Poindexter program operation, Total Information Awareness, where, in this room, we pointed out the taxpayers were going to end up paying, in effect, to run a betting parlor on future terrorist acts.

So the two of us have felt that it's been especially important, during a time when there hasn't, certainly, for most of the Bush administration been a lot of oversight over a lot of these programs -- that's changed now, with a new committee chairman trying to put the spotlight on a lot of these abuses -- but the two of us have made a significant effort, in our time, in the Senate, to go after these flagrant examples of inefficiency and waste and mismanagement.

And we spent a lot of time digging into the facts here. And that's why we felt it warranted an action that we wouldn't normally take.

DORGAN: Let me just make a point.

We've joined together on, probably, a dozen matters in the last few years: the security problems with the contractor at the Department of Homeland Security, some security problems with the contractor at nuclear plants.

DORGAN: I mean, we've worked on a lot of things together. And we've been talking about this issue. A hearing was held in the House. There have been stories about what has happened at the < GSA >.

When I read the first story and the first account of what happened there, I could not believe it. It is so far afield of what would be acceptable behavior in an executive branch agency that is not a political agency, to have a political presentation in that agency to the key people in the agency to talk about targeting Democrats and so on. And then to have the administrators say to the top people, "Let's figure out how we can help our candidates."

That's just way across the line and in my judgment is a nonstarter for somebody that wants to continue in government.


WYDEN: It would certainly be further evidence of how serious the politicizing of this agency has been.

We believe that the examples that we have cited already demonstrate how serious the problem is. But if there is further evidence that is uncovered it would just, I think, add further support.

But certainly what we have dug up already, what has come out in the hearings to date, warrants the action we're taking.

DORGAN: Let me just ask you: How likely is it, do you think, that somebody picked out one agency -- in this case, the < GSA > -- and said, "Let's go make a midday presentation about where the Democratic targets are in the 2008 election and get the key folks in that agency behind us, say let's go help our candidates"?

How likely is it that happened once, in one agency called < GSA? And how likely is it, if it happened elsewhere, that an agency head would have said, "Let's help our candidates"?

I mean -- look, this is a combination of a lot of bad judgments, at least in my opinion.

QUESTION: (inaudible) the $20,000 no-bid deal that she was going to give to a company for the report on women who owned their own businesses. $20,000 is not a lot of money in the scheme of things. Why does that matter?

WYDEN: I think it was such a troubling, you know, case, where she was advised repeatedly to steer clear of this. Essentially the nonpolitical individuals said, "This is over the line. You gotta steer clear of it." And yet the effort to do it went on and on until eventually it came to light.

And then, way after the fact, there was an admission a mistake was made.

I think what brought me here today was a combination of those three factors: the politicizing the agency, the trampling on the inspector general, and that no-bid contract.

Certainly, any one of them would have been serious. But the combination of all three within the space of a year is, in my view, a pattern that cannot be ignored.

I start with the proposition that the president ought to be given a wide berth with respect to being able to have his own people, but in instance after instance now we've seen conduct that is over the line.

QUESTION: Can the Senate remove her from her office? (inaudible) consider doing it, if she doesn't step down?

DORGAN: She serves at the pleasure of the president at this point. And our belief is that she should resign or be asked to resign by the president.

WYDEN: OK. Thank you very much.


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