By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 24, 2007 1:26 PM
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found that General Services Administration chief Lurita Alexis Doan violated the federal Hatch Act when she allegedly asked GSA political appointees during a January briefing how they could "help our candidates" win the next election, according to a report by the office.
The Hatch Act restricts executive branch employees from using their position for political purposes. The special counsel's office, which investigates alleged violations of the law, said it would recommend that President Bush take disciplinary action against Doan, including possible removal from office.
"Her actions, to be certain, constitute an obvious misuse of her official authority and were made for the purpose of affecting the result of an election," investigators said in a copy of the 19-page report obtained by The Washington Post. "One can imagine no greater violation of the Hatch Act than to invoke the machinery of an agency, with all its contracts and buildings, in the service of a partisan campaign to retake Congress and the Governors' mansions."
Under the law, Doan has the opportunity to respond to the findings before they are finalized and a formal recommendation is sent to the White House for Bush's review.
In a statement, Doan said she fundamentally disagrees with the findings, which she called preliminary. "I have an opportunity, which I will take, to work with the Office of Special Counsel to correct the many inaccuracies before the final report is issued," she said.
Doan, whom Bush appointed last year to be administrator of the government's leading contracting agency, has 14 days to respond to the report, which she received on Friday.
The special counsel's office declined to comment, saying the "process has not been completed."
"Under law, the GSA Administrator is entitled to comment on the investigation before the Special Counsel makes any recommendation," office spokesman James Mitchell said in a statement.
The special counsel's investigation was spurred by allegations that Doan solicited agency employees "to participate in political activities during a meeting held at GSA headquarters on January 26," the report said. The meeting, a "brown bag" luncheon, featured a presentation by J. Scott Jennings, deputy director of political affairs in Karl Rove's office at the White House.
Jennings gave a PowerPoint presentation of polling data about the 2006 midterm elections. In a slide called "2008 House Targets: Top 20," the presentation named 20 Democrats on whom Republicans intended to focus in 2008. Another slide, called "2008 House GOP Defense," listed GOP candidates to be protected.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Doan "asked a question about, 'How can we help our candidates,' " the report said. Some participants began to offer suggestions before Jennings asked that the session be taken "off-line," according to the report.
According to the report, investigators took sworn statements from numerous GSA political appointees who recalled Doan saying a variation of "How can we help our candidates?" or "What can we do to help our candidates?"
In testimony before Congress in March, and in a sworn statement to the special counsel's office, Doan said that she could not recall making any such statements. She also told the special counsel's office that she could not recall any details about the meeting because she spent most of the hour-long presentation reviewing e-mails on her BlackBerry.
To verify her account, investigators obtained Doan's e-mail records. They said they were "unable to corroborate that Administrator Doan was utilizing her BlackBerry or other personal digital assistant during the January 26 meeting."
In her sworn statement to investigators, Doan also said that GSA political appointees who gave testimony to investigators were biased, according to the report. "There is not a single one of those who did not have somewhere in between a poor to totally inferior performance," Doan said in her statement.
As a result of Doan's assertions, investigators examined the witnesses' recent performance reviews and found that her account was "unsupported and contradicted by the documentary evidence," the report said.
One employee singled out by Doan as "totally inferior" had recently received an evaluation that said the employee was "meeting expectations" and was called "an extremely proactive and valued member of the top management team," the report said.
"It is somewhat troubling that Administrator Doan made the above unsubstantiated allegations during an official investigation of her actions," investigators wrote in their report. "It arguably indicates a willingness on her part" to use her position "in a way threatening to any who would come forward."
The investigators said that federal employees who violate the Hatch Act can be removed from their positions, unless a special board votes unanimously to retain them. Because Doan is a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate, it is up to the president to decide her fate.
The Doan investigation is one of the most high-profile undertaken by the office of Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch, who is himself under investigation by the Office of Personnel Management for allegedly retaliating against employees who disagreed with his policies. Bloch disputes the allegations.
A spokesman for the White House said the office had not seen the report and had no comment.