The moment Lurita Doan walked into the "brown bag" meeting on January 26, 2007 at the GSA headquarters, her career as a government servant was in jeopardy. The moment it became public that Scott Jennings, White House deputy director of political affairs, gave a Powerpoint presentation (warning: large file) on 2006 election polling data and GOP political strategy in 2008, Lurita had a choice to make. She did not choose wisely.
As you may recall, I wrote a post about my personal view of Lurita before she testified in front of Congress earlier this week. In the post, I expressed my disappointment that she was alleged to be involved in this scandal but I had also reserved judgment until after the hearing. Now the hearing has passed and I want to share with you my views on the matter.
Lurita stated at the hearing that she felt that she was living out the movie "Mr. Smith goes to Washington". After her opening statement, I wanted to believe that to be true. However, under intense questioning a different picture began to emerge. When it became clear that the White House was practicing partisan politics inside GSA premises, Lurita’s response was to be non-responsive. By doing so, that is, by deciding to protect the White House, she did her country a disservice this week. She chose partisanship over her country and her integrity. As someone who has admired and respected Lurita, I felt deep shame.
While it is not clear that Lurita violated the Hatch Act by her actions, this was never about getting off on a technicality. The issue has always been the American people’s right to expect their government to work for them, and not for a political party. That right of the American people should be self-evident, with or without the Hatch Act.
Lurita asserted that she was engaged in "team building" and that political appointees are tasked with carrying out the policies of the White House. However, there is a significant difference between "policies" and "politics". There is nothing wrong with political appointees setting policy direction on behalf of the president of the United States – that is their right, and in fact, their duty. However, when the GSA administrator and senior level staff at the GSA are engaged in plotting or discussing political strategy – that is, planning how to win elections for their political party – they are no longer acting as public servants, they are acting as political hacks. By doing so, they have in effect hijacked the machinery of the US government for the benefit of a political party. The crime is larger than the Hatch Act – the crime is a high crime and misdemeanor. The accused must include the head of the political party that perpetrated the offense, that is, the President of the United States.
In her short tenure at the GSA Lurita had done much good for the troubled agency. She had attempted to cut waste and spending. She tried to take on entrenched interests such as NASA SEWP, but failed. I also believe she did the right thing in getting the Sun Microsystems contract renewed. She would have made Mr. Smith proud.
However, in the end, she could not escape the cult of the "loyal Bushies". In the end she put loyalty to the President above loyalty to country. She made her choice. In doing so, she disappointed those of us who labored under her and learned much from her.
I take no joy in this turn of events. I wish it were not so. Yet there it is. Undeniably so.