WASHINGTON — The White House announced Sept. 4 that an ethics waiver was granted July 23 to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden allowing him to serve in that capacity despite his previous work with two of the U.S. space agency’s big contractors, SAIC of San Diego and Sacramento, Calif.-based GenCorp.
Bolden, whose nomination by U.S. President Barack Obama was confirmed by the Senate July 15, previously worked as a consultant for SAIC, a science and engineering firm that holds numerous NASA engineering and technical support contracts. The former NASA astronaut and retired Marine Corps general also served on the board of directors of GenCorp, the parent company of the propulsion firm Aerojet.
The White House announcement referenced a July 23 memo posted on the Web site of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics that said the waiver was granted by NASA.
“Mr. Bolden’s knowledge of and expertise in current NASA programs are essential to making informed and timely decision-making about the future of NASA and its programs,” states the document, which was signed by a NASA ethics officer whose name was obscured in the posting. “His ability to engage in such decision-making as the head of NASA is in the public interest and fundamental to NASA’s ability to remain in the forefront of space exploration.”
The waiver prohibits Bolden from engaging in any one-on-one meetings or communications with SAIC or GenCorp, and prohibits his participation in contracting matters involving the companies. However, it does allow the NASA administrator to make decisions at the “policy or program level” for particular matters involving either entity.
The waiver does not address Bolden’s brief stint as a consultant for Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems, the company that builds the solid-rocket boosters for the space shuttle and which is prime contractor for the main stage of the Ares 1 crew launch vehicle, a key component of NASA’s planned shuttle replacement system.
The document states that the waiver of paragraph 2 of Obama’s “Ethics Pledge,” detailed in a Jan. 21 executive order, is in the public interest.
“Absent a waiver, Mr. Bolden would be prohibited by paragraph 2 of the Ethics Pledge from participating in any particular matter involving specific parties in which either SAIC or GenCorp is or represents a party,” the document states.
Paragraph 2 is aimed at certain professional relationships that appointees may have had prior to public service, although it does not address lobbying. Executive agency waivers are granted when an ethics officer determines after review that public interest in permitting an appointee’s service outweighs any concerns, according to a Sept. 4 White House blog post by special counsel Norm Eisen. The blog announced a list of 10 appointees for whom waivers were recently granted including Bolden, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Eisen noted in the blog post that decisions to waive ethics rules “have been exceedingly rare,” and that of the 1,890 appointments, only six White House waivers and 10 agency waivers have been applied. That represents less than 1 percent of all appointments.