Status Report

Prepared Statement by Rep. Brad Miller – Hearing: Oversight Review of the Investigation of the NASA Inspector General

By SpaceRef Editor
June 8, 2007
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Prepared Statement by Rep. Brad Miller – Hearing: Oversight Review of the Investigation of the NASA Inspector General

Good morning. In January, the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) completed its investigation of allegations of misconduct by Robert “Moose” Cobb, the inspector general of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). After a six-month investigation, it found that Mr. Cobb had abused his authority and exhibited the appearance of a lack of independence from NASA management. These are violations of the “Quality Standards for Federal Offices of Inspector General” established under Executive Order 12805. In a subsequent communication, the Integrity Committee said discipline “up to and including removal” should be considered. After reading the report, the Majority leadership of the House Science and Technology Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences called for Mr. Cobb’s removal.

However, Mr. Cobb remains in his office.

The finding of “abuse of authority” by the PCIE involved Mr. Cobb’s nasty and degrading treatment of his staff, resulting in massive staff turnover and affecting productivity. Mr. Cobb referred to his professional staff as “bureauons,” Mr. Cobb’s shorthand for “bureaucratic morons” and by other vulgar terms that I will not repeat here. But the re-reading of the investigative record by NASA’s general counsel – who had consulted with Mr. Cobb concerning the investigation – led NASA to dismiss these findings. We will hear from some witnesses today who can testify to the impact of Mr. Cobb’s behavior on the office he ostensibly managed.

Rather than dwell on the abusive atmosphere created by Mr. Cobb and its effect on productivity, I want to make sure that the second finding regarding the appearance of a lack of independence receives the attention it is due. This matter has never been directly addressed by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin or the PCIE in the disposition of the Cobb matter, and it is enormously important to Cobb’s effectiveness.

According to the “Official Standards,” inspectors general and their staff “have a responsibility to maintain independence, so that opinions, conclusions, judgments, and recommendations will be impartial and will be viewed as impartial by knowledgeable third parties.” Mr. Cobb has failed to do so.

The perception that Cobb lacked independence was set in motion during Mr. Cobb’s hiring process. Shortly after he moved from the Office of Management and Budget to NASA, Sean O’Keefe, NASA’s former administrator, decided that he didn’t like the previous NASA inspector general. He went to the White House and demanded a new one. How this selection was made is not completely clear. What is clear is from the sworn testimony provided to the PCIE by Mr. Cobb and by Courtney Stadd, who was then Mr. O’Keefe’s chief of staff, is that Mr. O’Keefe personally chose his new inspector general and established a system in which Mr. Cobb was part of Mr. O’Keefe’s team and not the independent inspector general required by law.

As Mr. Cobb described it, Mr. O’Keefe “reached a conclusion . . . that I would be a perfect person to conduct the independent office of Inspector General activities.” (Cobb Tr., p. 44)

Mr. Stadd stated, however, that he thought it was “unusual” that Mr. O’Keefe had a say in who the next NASA IG would be. Furthermore, according to Mr. Stadd, Mr. O’Keefe promptly instituted weekly lunches in his private office or at restaurants with Mr. Cobb as soon as Mr. Cobb came on board.

Paul Pastorak, then general counsel, and the chief of staff were also at those lunches. (Cobb Tr., p. 138) The relationship between Mr. Cobb, Mr. O’Keefe and Paul Pastorak, NASA’s general counsel, developed to the point that some NASA employees nicknamed them “the holy trinity.”

The relationship included chatty, personal e-mails in which Mr. Cobb asked O’Keefe to discuss with him the White House’s offer of a possible six-month stint as the IG for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and Mr. O’Keefe told Cobb about his consideration for the position as chancellor of Louisiana State University.

It included family socializing while at a conference in New Orleans, playing golf and taking plane trips together. Mr. Cobb was known to refer to Mr. O’Keefe as his “boss” and express fear that he would be fired if he did something Mr. O’Keefe was unhappy with. Why shouldn’t he think these things since Mr. O’Keefe had been able to fire Mr. Cobb’s predecessor and pick the new NASA IG.

According to some interviewed by the HUD IG staff who carried out the PCIE investigation, Mr. Cobb was warned about lacking an appearance of independence from the beginning of his tenure, but he ignored those warnings, and the Integrity Committee’s Record of Investigation is full of evidence of his failure to maintain an appearance of independence.

E-mails record Mr. Cobb’s request of NASA officials to discuss how to design the IG’s projects. For example, a December 12, 2002, e-mail from Mr. Cobb to James Jennings at NASA and cc’d to numerous officials, including Mr. O’Keefe and Mr. Pastorak, asked to discuss two proposed projects “so we can take your views into account in designing our activities.” (p. 206).

One of those projects ended up as an investigative finding by the PCIE as Mr. Cobb refused to release a report until its findings were no longer relevant apparently because it was written by an auditor Mr. Cobb did not like. (p. 54)

After the Columbia accident, when there were questions about the independence of the O’Keefe-appointed Accident Investigation Board, some of them expressed by Chairman Gordon, Mr. Cobb provided an unsolicited personal letter to Congress stating that, based on his “observations,” it was his opinion that the board was independent. Before its release, however, a draft was submitted to Mr. O’Keefe for review and comment. (p. 208) Mr. O’Keefe was duly grateful.

I could go on and on with similar examples of ways in which Mr. Cobb tried to make himself useful to his friends at the top of the agency. But what is most important here is that Mr. Cobb is now totally ineffective in his job and trusted by no one.

As is made clear in his testimony today, Mr. Cobb has learned nothing from the PCIE investigation. He admits no wrong, but blames his problems on others. In fact, he has worked very hard to develop the same inappropriately close relationship with Michael Wholley, NASA’s current general counsel, that he had with Mr. Pastorak. Mr. Wholley was tasked by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin to review the PCIE report and develop a response. Perhaps Dr. Griffin did not know that one of the allegations against Mr. Cobb concerned sharing information improperly with Mr. Wholley or that Mr. Wholley had been commiserating for months with Mr. Cobb about this investigation and that Mr. Wholley and Mr. Cobb had discussed Mr. Cobb’s management problems. Mr. Wholley told our staffs that if this had been a criminal investigation, he would have recused himself from the Cobb matter because of this relationship.

It was the same Michael Wholley who personally destroyed the video records of Dr. Griffin’s highly inappropriate meeting with Mr. Cobb and IG staff so that – as he told our Subcommittee two weeks ago — no one could obtain it. This represents the only time – certainly in the history of the Science and Technology Committee and perhaps the entire Congress — that an agency general counsel has admitted destroying agency records to keep anyone from viewing them. According to other reports from attendees, in that meeting, Mr. Griffin made some very strong statements about what he thought the inspector general should be doing, and it did not include much of the work that was being done. It left the OIG staff even more discouraged than they already were and wondering again who their boss was.

Mr. Cobb also said in his deposition before HUD IG staff that he would “love” for Mr. Griffin to call him and ask him to play golf, as he did with Mr. O’Keefe. “If Mike Griffin wants to go play golf with me, by all means I’m going to go play. . . . If he wanted to invite me out to dinner, I think that it would be perfectly appropriate for me to go.” (Cobb Tr., p.110) He wants the same kind of relationship that he had with Mr. O’Keefe, but Mr. Griffin apparently does not, leaving that to Mr. Wholley.

Mr. Cobb, you must leave. You have two clients, NASA and the Congress. Congress doesn’t trust you anymore. Your office’s work is suspect, what there is of it. And Mr. Griffin apparently doesn’t value your work. You told our staff that you are afraid to address your staff because they “twist your words.” So you are hiding from your own staff. As one of our witnesses said in his written testimony, “Each IG must be willing to accept responsibility for his or her behavior, and acknowledge when their independence has been compromised, fairly or unfairly, and exit office gracefully.”

Mr. Cobb, you must leave to preserve what is left of the integrity of your office.

SpaceRef staff editor.