The Office of Special Counsel confirmed to ABC News it has launched an investigation into General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan, probing concerns she may have violated a ban against conducting partisan political activity at government expense by participating in a meeting featuring a presentation by a White House political aide on GOP election strategy.
Doan's agency spends over $56 billion a year on paper clips, office space, car fleets and other necessities for federal agencies.
In January, Doan attended a meeting at which senior White House political aide W. Scott Jennings briefed Doan, a White House appointee, and other officials at a GSA facility on Republican plans to win seats in Congress.
After the presentation, according to some witnesses contacted by congressional investigators, Doan encouraged other attendees to find ways GSA could help "our candidates" in the 2008 election. Doan has told Congress she doesn't recall making the statement, and other witnesses interviewed by congressional investigators are said to have backed her up.
Doan has also faced scrutiny from Congress and her agency's own internal watchdog on unrelated matters, including concerns over a GSA service order involving a company connected to one of Doan's friends.
But Doan may not have been the only top official to host a White House political official at her agency. The White House political office has been giving presentations similar to the one at GSA since at least 2002, briefing officials throughout the government on Republican campaign information, according to a recent book by two Los Angeles Times reporters.
"[White House political adviser Karl] Rove and [former Bush campaign chief and one-time Republican National Committee head Ken] Mehlman ventured to nearly every cabinet agency to share key polling data" leading up to the 2002 midterm elections, wrote Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten in their book, "One Party Country," "and to deliver a reminder of White House priorities, including the need for the president's allies to win in the next election."
While previous administrations had sent officials to cabinet agencies, the duo wrote, "Such intense regular communication from the political office had never occurred before."
Some believe those meetings are cause for further investigation by Congress and the Office of Special Counsel. "They should be looking at whether this particular meeting is part of a larger pattern and practice of violating the Hatch Act," said Melanie Sloan, director of the left-leaning government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The Hatch Act prohibits government resources â€“ including employees' time or space in a government building â€“ from being used for partisan politics.
Congressional Democrats are on the Doan case. House Oversight and Government Reform Commmittee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., last week grilled the GSA chief and asked the White House for information on whether the January GSA presentation has been given at other government agencies.
On Wednesday, his office asked the Republican National Committee to turn over any e-mails in its possession relating to such briefings.
In a statement e-mailed to ABC News, a GSA spokeswoman said that Doan was "fully complying" with the OSC probe, which was first noted by the web site GovExec.com, and that the organization could not comment further on an open investigation. An OSC official confirmed that the probe was begun before Waxman's hearing last week.
This post has been updated.