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GOP, Press Forget Lurita Doan Scandal at Bush GSA

April 3, 2012

Three top officials of the General Services Administration (GSA) were ousted Monday in advance of an Inspector General's report documenting a lavish spending spree at a 2010 agency conference in Las Vegas. But while White House chief of staff Jacob Lew reported that President Obama was "outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars," conservative media and Republicans like Darrell Issa claimed it was an "embarrassment" and "hypocritical" for the administration." Of course, when Bush GSA chief Lurita Doan gave no-bid contracts to her friends and converted her agency into an appendage of the Republican Party, the GOP and its allies rushed to her defense.
As the Washington Post reported, the Obama administration "was alerted in March to the year-long investigation" and "moved swiftly to get in front of the scandal." But the $835,000 price tag for the GSA conference, a tab which included the costs of clowns, commemorative coins and a mind reader, was too sweet an opportunity for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa to let pass. President Obama's "chief inquisitor" issued a statement before unleashing a torrent of criticism on Twitter:

"After President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions, it's hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom made coins touting the stimulus."

Of course, when it comes to hypocrisy, Darrell Issa knows what he's talking about.
As you may recall, President Bush's GSA chief Lurita Doan came under scrutiny in early 2007 for cronyism and impermissible electioneering on behalf of the Republican Party. As the Washington Post recalled on the day of her resignation a year later in 2008:

Waxman's [House Oversight and Government Reform] committee began investigating Doan after articles in The Post revealed that she had approved a $20,000, no-bid procurement order last July with a firm run by a friend who had served as Doan's public relations consultant when she was in private business. Doan said she terminated the order after she became aware that it did not comply with contracting rules.
The committee investigation also turned up evidence that Doan may have violated the Hatch Act in January 2007 by allegedly asking political appointees how they could "help our candidates" at an agency briefing conducted by a White House official, according to several of the appointees present for the briefing.

After inquiries by the Office of Special Counsel Scott Bloch and the GSA's own Inspector General Brian Miller (the same Brian Miller who headed up the probe of Obama's appointee, Martha Johnson), Republican Senator Chuck Grassley led the criticism of Doan. "In my oversight of the GSA, including the Sun Microsystems contract," Grassley said, "it appeared that the taxpayer was not the Agency's top concern."
But he was virtually alone among Republicans and their water carriers. For months, the Post noted, the Bush White House "said it was considering Bloch's recommendation but made no further comment." Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) lamented that "the administrator appears to have fallen victim to a bureaucratic culture that fears, rather than rewards, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and bold leadership." And no one came to her defense more forcefully than one Darrell Issa.
As Political Correction documented at length in June 2011, time and again Issa came to Doan's defense, even going so far as to list her charitable contributions as proof of her virtue. That was hard to do with a straight face, given Doan's pathetic performance in front of his committee. As NPR detailed in March 2007:

In her testimony, Doan preferred to emphasize her entrepreneurial efforts. But Democrats were interested in other things: a contract that she tried to award to an old friend; negotiations with Sun Microsystems, in which she became involved; and, more especially, the briefing. In January, Scott Jennings -- the top aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove -- talked to GSA political appointees about the 2006 election results and the Republican goals for 2008.
In one exchange, the lead-off questioner for committee Democrats, Iowa freshman Rep. Bruce Braley, a former trial lawyer, asked Doan, "Would you characterize his presentation as a purely factual presentation about the results of the 2006 election?"
Doan replied, "I'm a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I can say I honestly don't have a recollection of the presentation at all."

(You may have a recollection of that presentation. After all, slides showing the GOP's top 20 target seats for the 2008 election were made public.)

Nevertheless, Darrell Issa, the same man who accused Valerie Plame of perjury, attacked the families of murdered Blackwater employees and accused Joe Sestak of Hatch Act violations, defended Doan as a victim. During a March 2007 Oversight Committee hearing, Issa defended Doan. As NPR reported:

Republicans stuck up for Doan. Darrell Issa of California noted that she has been running GSA for just eight months: "In your eight months, I think you've probably found what I found in my nearly seven years now: That this is a bureaucracy that will resist you at every point, isn't it?"
Doan's reply: "You're absolutely right."

For her part, the loyal Bushie Lurita Doan repaid the favor. In October 2008, Doan attacked the man Issa would eventually replace. "Most Americans have grown familiar with your lack of candor, misleading statements, and bitter partisan machinations, and certainly, your report serves as yet another example of the same ol' same ol' from Henry Waxman." And In January 2011, Doan reemerged on the pages of Townhall to praise "Issa's Early Effect":

Congressman Darrell Issa's chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has already had an effect on Democrats in the Obama Administration, even before Issa has hosted a congressional oversight hearing. The announcement of the resignation of Josh Sharfstein, the Deputy Commissioner at Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is likely just the first of many such resignations that will occur as Executive agency leaders in the Obama Administration realize that their misguided policies can't stand up to public scrutiny...
Expect an exodus of other political appointees from other federal agencies as soon as public scrutiny reveals more Obama Administration abuses of public trust. Many Democrats have depended on operating in the dark because they know their policies are indefensible. Liberal Dems who know that their policies cannot be defended are going to leave before Issa's hawk's eye turns on their activities.

Brendan Nyhan may or may not be right that the GSA's "what happens in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas" shame could be Barack Obama's first scandal. Either way, the Obama administration's quick action to remove Johnson and her lieutenants suggests a zero tolerance policy for wrong-doing at the nation's procurement agency. Unfortunately for Lurita Doan and her bathwater drinker Darrell Issa, the contrast with the politicized General Services Administration under George W. Bush should become sharper in the days to come.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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