The General Services Administration's inspector general has released a report finding that former Administrator Denise Turner Roth retaliated against a whistleblower during her tenure at the agency.
The report centers on the dispute with former Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Tom Sharpe over the creation of the Technology Transformation Service, a new service line to manage GSA's tech arms — like 18F, the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and the Presidential Innovation Fellows.
Related: Read the report
The report found "a preponderance of the evidence" that Roth took action that threatened Sharpe with transfer after he disclosed concerns to the OIG about the formation of TTS and its impact on the Acquisition Services Fund, which he was statutorily required to administer, to the inspector general.
"After receiving guidance from GSA's General Counsel, Roth did not follow through on the threat of transfer," the report said. "However, she significantly changed Sharpe's responsibilities by adopting a new governance process for TTS's use of the ASF, in reprisal for Sharpe's protected activity."
News of an OIG investigation came to light on June 23, when Federal News Radio revealed that investigators had found that Roth had retaliated against Sharpe under whistleblower statutes.
Roth announced the formation of TTS in May 2016, with goal of providing GSA’s innovation arms — like the Presidential Innovation Fellows and 18F, each a part of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies — their service from which to operate.
But Roth’s plan included using ASF funding to create TTS, which is administered by the FAS commissioner. The report said that Sharpe became concerned the TTS funding plan "violated the 2006 General Services Modernization Act and resulted in mismanagement, waste of funds and abuse of authority."
Chief among Sharpe’s concerns were cost overruns within 18F and the use of unapproved and unsecured digital applications and cloud computing accounts, which he divulged to the OIG in December 2015 following a draft order from Roth about creating TTS using a portion of ASF funding.
"The creation of a third service, partially funded by the ASF, will set up a competition between the third service commissioner, who has no authority or accountability for use of the ASF, with the FAS commissioner, who has authority for the use of the ASF and cannot remove himself from accountability for proper management of the ASF," Sharpe told the OIG in a Dec. 3, 2015 email.
"The competition can only be resolved by the administrator, thereby negating the FAS commissioner's authorities, and putting at risk FAS investments and critical government operations it supports."
The FAS commissioner also detailed a Dec. 2 meeting between himself, Roth and Deputy Administrator Adam Neufeld, where "the discussion included statements that Sharpe was ‘not playing ball’ and comments about transferring SES personnel. Sharpe viewed the statements as threatening."
Sharpe later declined to concur with Roth’s draft TTS order and informed her of his correspondence with the OIG. The report said Roth, "informed Sharpe of her displeasure with his failure to concur and for not sharing his concerns with her directly rather than going to the OIG," and reiterated her feelings in a Dec. 4, 2015, email.
Roth again mentioned the transferring of underperforming senior executives to Sharpe in a March 24, 2016, meeting after he stated his intent to non-concur with a final order to create TTS. Sharpe told investigators that he took the mention of transfer as a veiled threat from Roth.
The GSA administrator also began having a series of meetings with GSA General Counsel Kris Durmer and Chief People Officer Antonia Harris, beginning in January 2016, about the possibility of transferring Sharpe and FAS Deputy Commissioner Kevin Youel Page.
Durmer advised against the transfer plans in May 2016, saying that the move would likely be overturned following Sharpe’s communications with the OIG, and Roth and Neufeld abandoned the plans.
But the GSA administrator then chose to restructure Sharpe’s ASF authority when it came to 18F/TTS investments, providing final approval authority to Neufeld.
"Sharpe viewed the governance change as further retaliation by Roth ‘by negating my authority to oversee the use of ASF as called for in statute and GSA delegations of authority.’ Sharpe also felt that the ‘ASF has been abusively politicized’ and that he could not stop that," the report states.
The OIG found that Sharpe’s disclosure to its office should be deemed as protected whistleblower activity and that Roth had retaliated against him in her discussions of potential transfer and in her changes of his authority related to the ASF.
Sharpe and Youel Page resigned from the FAS on June 24, following the Trump administration’s decision to merge the service with TTS and make its commissioner a political appointee.Neufeld said in an email that the actions Roth and GSA with respect to the report took were lawful, and took issue with Sharpe's resistance to TTS and 18F.
"While 18F has certainly had some growing pains, the program is one of the few initiatives supported by both the Trump and the Obama Administrations because of its transformative potential. Tom opposed the idea of 18F from its first suggestion by Administrator Tangherlini years ago. Whether he opposed 18F for substantive reasons or just to 'protect his turf,' he is entitled to his opinion," he said.
"However, he is not entitled to obstruct decisions that are lawful. He continually took steps to frustrate the initiative. As a result, his responsibilities over the program were gradually reassigned over the past four years, all consistent with the law. This happened both before and after notification to the Inspector General. Lawfully reassigning the responsibilities of an employee who is failing to perform his functions effectively and in good faith is what taxpayers deserve."
The OIG has referred the report to Office of the Special Counsel.