Life At The Top

Tuesday - 1/6/2009, 4:00am EST

What with the transition and the economy, government jobs are looking better all the time.

Members of Congress, lobbyists and the transition teams are swamped with requests from both outsiders and Clinton era appointees who want in, or back in, government.

One assumes many of these people are smart, dedicated and want to make a difference. Also, a lot of them need the work.

Executive headhunters in the private sector charge fees. The bigger the job, the bigger the fee. Makes sense! In some cases the job-hunter may pay either a fixed amount or a portion of his/her new salary. In other cases, the company doing the hiring picks up the tab. Or sometimes both the hunter and the huntee pay.

Generally speaking, governments don't pay or charge fees (except maybe sometimes in Illinois) when recruiting top talent.

Uncle Sam operates a merit system. Except at the very top. There the senior executive and Schedule C officials are nearly always political appointees. The typical tour of duty lasts about a year and a half. That is often not enough time to do a lot of good, but it's more than enough time to make a mess and ruin the lives of some career civil servants.

Meantime, if you want a job at the very top of government, it's gonna cost you. Often times the cost will be more than the lucky winner makes in salary.

Case in point: Last year Lurita Doan, head of the General Services Administration resigned. (In Washington, people who appear before a firing squad are sometimes said to have "resigned." Which is true, up to a point...)

Doan had been a very successful business person and highly active and visible in raising 6-figure funds for GOP candidates. GSA is a very important agency though it lacks the sex appeal of the top job at the State Department, the Pentagon, or a London, Paris or Rome posting.

Doan ran afoul of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) who chaired the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. When the committee was run by Republicans, it beat up on Democrats including then President Clinton. Some speculated it was payback time. Others said that Doan had bent the Hatch "no politics" Act.

Doan also ran afoul of Special Counsel Scott Bloch, a fellow political appointee, who recommended that the White House punish her for alleged violations of the Hatch Act. (A few months later Bloch himself was ousted, as in "resigned", under pressure from the White House.)

Doan also tangled with GSA's independent Inspector General Brian Miller over the handling of four whistleblowers. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sided with the IG. In an exit interview with FederalNewsRadio she said maybe the IG should be investigated. As in who-guards-the-guards?

Doan also said that the New York Times led the media attack on her and that it refused to respond to or print any of the four letters-to-the-editor she sent the newspaper. Ironically, she said she had never spoken to or been interviewed by a Times reporter during her tenure.

Also, she said she never raised any funds and that the 6-figures was money she and her husband contributed over a ten year period.

In the understatement of the year, Doan told FederalNewsRadio that "I stepped on a lot of toes."

So how did it end? How and why did she resign?

Doan said she was called to the White House and told she had to go because she had become a "distraction."

To the extent that historians write about GSA, history will decide whether she was good and effective or bad. Or more good than bad. Or more bad than good. Depending on who writes it, of course!

But her rise, and fall, gives us a rare peek at the way things work in the highly-charged political world of Washington. And it also shows that if you want a top political job you need two things: 1) the ability to pass a very tough background check, and 2) high political visibility which is often attained by writing checks to the winning political party.

And it also reinforces the truth of the old Truman quote: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog"!

Nearly Useless Factoid

"Pound for pound, sharks don't bite all that hard," according to the leader of a study titled "Is Extreme Bite Performance Associated with Extreme Morphologies in Sharks?" published in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. This may change my summer vacation plans.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com