James A. Williams
Photo courtesy GSA
President Bush recently tapped James A. Williams to head the GSA, which oversees 352 million square feet worth of space across the nation. His appointment still requires Senate confirmation.

The General Services Administration, best known to many architects as the nation’s landlord, may soon have a new leader, after its former chief resigned nine weeks ago in a cloud of scandal.

On June 25, President Bush tapped James A. Williams to head the federal agency, which oversees 352 million square feet worth of space across the nation. The GSA’s Public Buildings Service department manages 8,619 government-owned facilities, including courthouses, prisons and offices. Williams currently helms the GSA’s other arm: the Federal Acquisition Service, which is responsible for buying all of the items the government needs to function, from light bulbs to busses in national parks.

Williams, whose appointment still requires Senate confirmation, would replace acting chief David Bibb. A 37-year veteran of the GSA, Bibb is retiring to take a real estate job in the private sector. He has served as a placeholder of sorts since April 30 when the agency’s former administrator, Lurita A. Doan, stepped down, ending a stormy, two-year tenure.

Doan became GSA chief in May 2006, after working for 15 years as the owner of company that sold surveillance equipment. Her troubles at the GSA began in January 2007, when she allegedly asked members of the Bush administration how her agency could help “our candidates” after participating in a White House briefing about the 2008 elections, reported the Washington Post.

Her comments caused a stir, and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel later found that she had violated the Hatch Act. The federal law, enacted in 1939, prohibits federal employees from taking actions that would influence an election. By keeping workers politically neutral, the thinking goes, government jobs are less inclined to fall prey to a Boss Tweed-style patronage system.

This wasn’t Doan’s only alleged misstep. Last summer, she was accused of awarding a $20,000 contract to a friend without going through the proper bidding process. The friend, who is a public relations executive, was hired to write a report describing the GSA’s use of minority- and female-owned businesses. Doan canceled the order after the press discovered that it didn’t comply with contracting rules.

After she quit, Doan defended her record, citing improved employee morale, increases in contracts to small businesses, and a surge in construction at U.S. ports. “The past 22 months have been filled with accomplishments,” she said in a statement released April 30.

Williams was not available for comment this week, but in a statement released June 25, he wrote: “If confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to serving the President, working with the fine men and women of GSA and for the citizens of our great nation.”