A Past of Politicizing Procurement?

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As Ellen Miller pointed out yesterday, the Housing & Urban Development Secretary, Alphonso Jackson, is decidely hands-on when it comes to his job–so much so that he even intervenes in procurement matters, if only when he feels prospective contractors are insufficiently enthusiastic about his boss, President George W. Bush. As reported in the Dallas Business Journal, Jackson was quite explicit in describing how he denied government business to a potential advertising contractor who had “a problem” with the president. The bit in his remarks that interested me was that Jackson said, “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.”

So how when and where did he come to believe this? Nexis turned up this interesting bit from a February 17, 1996 story in the Dallas Morning News by George Keumpel. As is often the case, the story involves a conflict of insiders: A state lawmaker, Dawnna Dukes, had a consulting firm that had worked for the winner of a state contract, Page Southerland Page. Other bidders for the same contract asked that the contract be reopened, alleging that the Page Southerland Page had received preferential treatment from the procurement officials–civil servants–working for the General Services Commission, the state agency that awards contracts. Jackson, then the chairman of the GSC (which, by the way, is now called the Texas Building and Procurement Commission), intervened, delaying the contract award. Dukes found reason to intervene back:

Ms. Dukes said she was only doing her job as a state representative in raising questions about the delay.

She said she called Mr. Jackson after a lobbyist suggested to her that he and others wanted the job to go to an unidentified big contributor to Gov. George W. Bush’s political campaign.

Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Jackson chairman of the commission.

The same story tells us that the General Services Commission’s executive director, Tom Treadway, proposed a rule that would take procurement decisions away from technical staff, leaving them at the discretion of the executive director:

The proposal has come under fire from some board members and from Mr. Treadway’s predecessor, John Pouland, who said it would inject politics into the bidding process.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. Treadway say decisions on contracts are too important to be left to lower-level employees.

After all, how can technical staff be expected to determine from technical documents what the political orientation of the bidders are?

The Carpet Bagger Report notes that the line from HUD, for the time being, is that Jackson’s April 28 remarks were made up, and that the Secretary doesn’t get involved in procurement decisions. We all know what regard Jackson’s past shows for the decision-making abilities of lower-level employees…

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