WASHINGTON — With Congress threatening to hold hearings, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin defended the U.S. space agency’s embattled inspector general April 5, saying in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program that “management counseling” would be a sufficient response to what he described as Robert Cobb’s “overly harsh treatment of subordinates.”
Three senior Democratic lawmakers have called on U.S. President George W. Bush to fire Cobb after receiving a 1,000-page report from the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency that found Cobb had been verbally abusive to employees and too chummy with Griffin’s predecessor to be an effective internal watchdog.
Griffin, in his first public comments about Cobb since Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and two senior Democrats in the House called for Cobb’s dismissal April 2, said he saw nothing in the Integrity Committee’s report that warranted Cobb’s removal from office.
“The board that investigated did find that Inspector General Cobb was, shall we say, sometimes a bit rough on some of his employees and that’s a managerial issue which we will address,” Griffin said. “But the authority of his office has not been abused and his impartiality as an inspector general, at least to me, is not in question.”
Griffin also said that he did not believe the president, who appointed Cobb, would fire him.
“[I]t was my recommendation that we stop well short of removing Inspector General Cobb and I believe that the president has accepted that recommendation,” Griffin said.
Griffin said his recommendations on Cobb’s future were requested by Clay Johnson, the chairman of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, in mid February. He also said the Integrity Committee normally makes its own recommendations on such matters “but did not, in this case, do so.”
Griffin wrote Johnson March 14 recommending that Cobb be kept on and provided with management training and counseling. Six days later, the chairman of the Integrity Committee, James H. Burns, sent Johnson a letter calling Griffin’s recommendations “inadequate to address the conduct of IG Cobb.”
“All members of the committee further believed that disciplinary action up to and including removal, could be appropriate,” Bur ns wrote.
Nelson and the two House members, Reps. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Brad Miller (D-N.C.), also are dissatisfied with the response from NASA and the White House and were still considering April 6 moving forward with hearings on Cobb’s professional conduct.
In a press release, the lawmakers said the report shows that Cobb “abused his authority, engaged in apparent conflicts of interest and failed to act even when confronted with the loss of NASA material posing a possible national security problem.”
The report has not been released to the public, but the House Science Committee has permitted reporters to read it and take notes.
According to the report, Cobb told investigators that he saw nothing inappropriate about the inspector general seeing the NASA administrator outside the office. “If Mike Griffin wants to play golf with me, by all means I’m going to play. That will give me the opportunity to listen to him talk or him listen to me talk,” Cobb said according to the report. “If he wanted to invite me to dinner I think that would be perfectly appropriate for me to go. I would go.”
The report does not identify any such outings with Griffin, but does detail regular lunches and occasional golf outings Cobb had with then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe between 2002 and 2005.
Griffin said that after reading through the report himself and having it analyzed in detail by career NASA attorneys, he could not in good conscience recommend Cobb’s dismissal.
“[T]heir conclusion was that there were no illegalities or improprieties, [but] that there were some examples of I should say overly harsh treatment of subordinates and that there should be some management counseling … but that none of those things in fact affected the conduct of the job, or the integrity with which the job was performed, and certainly nothing had any bearing on safety. And therefore I made the recommendation that Inspector General Cobb be retained.”
Colin Clark contributed to this story from Washington.