NASA Chief Reprimanded for Calling Marathon Oil

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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden should not have called Marathon Oil Corp. about a NASA-funded biofuels project, but did not violate federal laws or conflict-of-interest regulations by seeking the counsel of a company on whose board he previously served, the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said in a report released Sept. 20.

The report details the results of the OIG’s investigation into allegations that Bolden inappropriately reached out to a senior Marathon executive as he was considering NASA’s continued involvement in the biofuels project, the Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA). Bolden served on Marathon’s board of directors for six years prior to becoming NASA administrator in 2009 and held between $500,000 and $1 million in Marathon stock when he contacted the company seeking advice about the NASA Ames Research Center-led project.

“The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that Bolden’s contact with Marathon did not violate federal laws or ethics regulations pertaining to conflicts of interest. However, Bolden’s call to Marathon was not consistent with the Administration’s Ethics Pledge he signed upon taking office,” the report says.

The OIG said Bolden acknowledged in an interview with its investigators that reaching out to Marathon was “inappropriate” and said he has since recused himself from the project and received a refresher course on his ethical responsibilities.