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GSA chief endures partisan slugfest

General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan survived a raucous House committee hearing yesterday during which she was accused by Democrats of conducting partisan politics on the job and defended by Republicans who said critics were wasting the government's time and resources.

During the three-hour slugfest, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said a staff investigation found that Mrs. Doan asked GSA political appointees at a January meeting how they "could help" Republican candidates.

"As a result of the committee's investigation and hearing, we determined — conclusively in my opinion — that Ms. Doan solicited her employees at GSA to engage in partisan political activity on government property, a clear violation of the Hatch Act," he said.

Mr. Waxman, citing an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), also questioned whether Mrs. Doan had sought to "intimidate and retaliate against federal employees who cooperated with the committee's investigation."

Although Mrs. Doan vigorously and repeatedly denied retaliating against anyone, Mr. Waxman said the GSA chief "didn't just disparage the employees," but told them they would not be promoted, get bonuses or special awards "until extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs."

Mr. Waxman urged her to resign.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the committee's ranking Republican, said there was "zero evidence" of misconduct by Mrs. Doan and accused Democrats of "beating a dead horse." He called the hearing a "gross misuse" of committee resources, saying its premise was an "unprofessional and seemingly preordained" report from OSC.

"It is a farce premised on a sham," he said.

Mr. Davis said the records show Mrs Doan had not retaliated against any GSA employees, adding that "the real retaliation here is against an entrepreneurial African-American woman who ... supports the administration and is paying the price for trying to make her organization a better, more efficient and effective place."

He called the OSC report "remarkably harsh and hyperbolic," adding that although investigators said they interviewed more than 20 people in attendance at the January meeting, it does not quote any of them.

"The report asserts, without any analysis or finding, that her statement, 'How can we help our candidates?' solicited or directed employees to engage in partisan political activity," he said, but "not one employee responded with any proposal to help any candidate or any election."

Mrs. Doan was accused in the OSC report given this week to the White House of engaging in partisan politics during a Jan. 26 PowerPoint presentation by White House political aide Scott Jennings to 30 GSA political appointees on the 2006 midterm elections and prospects for the 2008 elections.

The report, citing unidentified officials, said Mrs. Doan asked during the presentation, "How can we help our candidates?"

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