Lawmakers Want Obama to Remove NASA Inspector General

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  Space News Business

Lawmakers Want Obama to Remove NASA Inspector General

By BECKY IANNOTTA
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 22 January 2009
10:08 am ET






Two Democratic congressmen have renewed calls for the removal of NASA Inspector General Robert “Moose” Cobb, citing a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report critical of Cobb’s track record auditing NASA programs and detecting fraud, waste and abuse.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), chairman of the subcommittee on investigations and oversight, said once President-elect BarackObama takes office, he should fire Cobb. Both congressmen previously called for Cobb’s resignation, saying they had no confidence in his ability to serve as a fair and impartial watchdog.

“I am hopeful that one of the first actions at NASA taken by the Obama administration is to remove Mr. Cobb,” Miller said in a Jan. 9 written statement. “The NASA [Inspector General’s] office has been in shambles since he arrived, and it needs to be rebuilt.”

Cobb, who has refused to resign, was appointed by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate in 2002. Unlike other Bush appointees, Cobb and other attorneys general were not required to submit formal resignations prior to the new administration taking over, said Renee Juhans, spokeswoman for the NASA Office of the Inspector General.

The latest calls for Cobb’s firing accompanied the GAO’s Jan. 9 release of “Inspectors General: Actions Needed to Improve Audit Coverage of NASA,” prepared at the request of Gordon, Miller and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

The report criticized the NASA inspector general’s office for not conducting enough audits aimed at ferreting out waste and abuse in NASA programs. The GAO also found fault with an inspector general staff turnover rate that has jumped from 12 percent to 20 percent between 2003 and 2007.��

The report found that while the NASA Office of Inspector General conducted 71 audits in 2006 and 2007, only one identified avenues for measurable cost savings, and that the bulk of $9 million in savings attributable to NASA inspector general audits over the two-year period stemmed from that one particular audit. Between 2003 and 2007, 88 percent of NASA’s financial recoveries resulted from two investigations and relied upon collaboration with inspectors general from other federal agencies, the GAO report said.

In rating 28 inspectors general on their ability to find cost savings through audits and investigations, the GAO rated the NASA Office of Inspector General second to last for 2007. NASA investigations and audits generated a 36-cent return for each dollar invested, compared with a $9.49 average for all federal inspectors general, the GAO said, noting that NASA’s budget for the office increased from $29 million to $34 million during Cobb’s tenure .

Cobb’s office disagreed with the findings.

“While GAO’s final report contains numerous revisions in response to our comments on a draft report, the report still does not reflect a thorough and balanced assessment of our work and accomplishments,” Juhans said in a written statement to Space News. “Notwithstanding, we agree with the intent of GAO’s recommendation to give greater emphasis to identifying potential savings in the execution of the broad portfolio of audit activities we conduct.”

Cobb came under fire in early 2007, when he refused demands for his resignation from congressional Democrats who criticized his close association with top NASA managers he was supposed to be monitoring. A yearlong investigation by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, found no criminal wrongdoing but cited examples in which Cobb verbally abused employees and failed to maintain an appearance of independence from senior NASA officials, including former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

Cobb, a former White House attorney, had no previous audit or investigations experience before moving to NASA.

“This inspector general was not qualified when he took the job. We now see from the GAO’s report that Mr. Cobb has failed to execute one of an [inspector general’s] prime responsibilities – reviewing the accountability and efficiency of NASA operations,” Gordon said in a written statement. “NASA spends billions of dollars with private contractors and how much money Cobb left on the table due to his failures to manage his office is hard to imagine.”

The GAO said the issue of Cobb’s independence from NASA management remains unresolved, a point Cobb said is based solely on historical data with no evidence of ongoing problems, and on the omission of documents from the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency that indicated no further action would be taken.

“The germane decisional documents, not referenced in the draft report, clearly reflect that the matter was fully investigated, reviewed, resolved and closed,” Cobb wrote in his response to the GAO. “In sum, the draft report misleads the reader through selective inclusion and exclusion of evidence to suggest that a closed matter is still open, a conclusion that is demonstrably wrong.”

Following completion of the investigation in early 2007, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said he saw nothing in the report that warranted Cobb’s removal and recommended a course of action that included management training for Cobb to address how he deals with subordinates. Despite complaints that ‘s proposal did not fully address the problem, said the proposed actions were adequate, the GAO report said.

The GAO, however, cites ongoing dissatisfaction by members of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency’s Integrity Committee over NASA’s response to their findings.

“Given the Integrity Committee’s documented dissatisfaction with the corrective actions and that no actions we are aware of address the independence issue, we disagree that this matter has been fully resolved,” the report said.