Holding the Government Accountable

Tom Davis' Fingerprints?

In mid-September, the David H. Safavian story was hot. Safavian, the former Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) and former chief of staff of the General Services Administration (GSA), was charged with making false statements and obstructing a GSA Inspector General (IG) investigation into lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings. According to media reports from almost a year ago, it also seems that Safavian might have been involved in improperly manipulating government decision-making in other cases as well, possibly breaking the law.

Though "it's unusual for an OFPP administrator to become involved with individual procurements," Safavian did exactly that when used he become involved the procurement of telecommunication services involving both GSA and the Treasury Department late last year.

A major, and wonky, point of controversy in late 2004 was the decision by Treasury to go ahead with its own telecom network contract, known as the Treasury Communications Enterprise (TCE), rather than with the planned government-wide system contract overseen by GSA, known as Networx. Proponents of Networx, including Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) of the House Government Reform Committee which oversees government telecommunication purchases, claim that individual department telecom contracts undermine the potential for the cost-savings that could be derived from a single government-wide telecom purchasing system run by GSA. A Treasury spokeswoman has said that Treasury and GSA "evaluated whether any GSA contract vehicle could meet Treasury's telecommunications needs. Based on that review, Treasury determined it was unable to meet its communications needs with any existing contract."

Before Treasury announced the AT&T Corp. as winner of its TCE contract, Treasury officials signed a memorandum with GSA, Safavian and the Office of Management and Budget to review the TCE contract after two years. If the TCE contract was deemed inferior to Networx on a "best value analysis" basis then Treasury would move to Networx. According to a GovExec article, best value analysis is a misleading name for the analysis that was to be done, since it would not factor in the costs to transition Treasury's move to Networx. Treasury's chief information officer Ira Hobbs said that GSA "argued strenuously" for the exclusion of transition costs. The article anonymously cites a TCE manager who said the move to exclude the costs "was to appease GSA." Similarly, the director of the Internal Revenue Service's procurement division said the move "served to 'placate OMB,'" according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

According to Warren Suss, a federal telecom analyst, the memorandum "has Tom Davis' fingerprints all over it." A Government Reform Committee spokesman said Davis wasn't involved with writing the document.

Many companies that bid on the TCE contract protested the Treasury decision to award AT&T because they were not told about the memorandum, which could have altered the content of their bids. These protests were sustained by the GAO. Congressman Davis sent a letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow in March and said that Treasury should "put aside TCE and work towards a Networx strategy."

Between these protests and congressional pressure, Treasury decided in May 2005 to terminate its TCE contract. Then, in a reversal in August, decided to reopen bidding on its TCE contract. A Treasury spokeswoman said, "Treasury determined it was unable to meet its communications needs with any existing GSA contract."

The law that spells out the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy's authority says that the Administrator is not to "interfere with the determination by executive agencies of specific actions in the award or administration of procurement contracts." (41 USC ยง 405 (c)(2))

Did Safavian overstep his authority as OFPP Administrator when he helped broker the memorandum of understanding between GSA and Treasury? Did Davis use his connection to Safavian (Safavian's wife is Davis's general counsel) to attempt to achieve his goal of transferring Treasury to GSA's Networx contract? Did GSA officials use their connections to Safavian (Safavian was formerly the chief of staff at GSA) to help achieve the transfer?