NASA Administrator Charles Bolden should not have consulted 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. That’s the conclusion reached by the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in a report released Sept. 20.

The report details the results of the OIG’s investigation into allegations that Bolden inappropriately consulted with a senior Marthon executive as we has considering NASA’s involvement in the Omega alternative fuels project. Bolden had served on Marathon’s board for six years prior to  becoming NASA administrator in 2009 and held more than $500,000 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 OIG investigation determined that on April 30, 2010, Bolden spoke by telephone with a senior Marathon official for approximately 10-15 minutes seeking her technical perspective on the viability of algae-based fuels.  At the time of this call, Bolden was considering a proposed agreement between NASA and the [U.S.] Navy relating to OMEGA, a research project that seeks to produce fuel through controlled offshore reactions of wastewater and algae.  NASA has committed to funding OMEGA for up to $10 million over the next 2 years.

“The OIG found no evidence that Bolden or Marathon received a financial benefit as a result of Bolden’s contact or that the information he received from Marathon caused him to withhold funding for the biofuels project or to reconsider the proposed agreement with the Navy.

“However, the OIG found that Bolden’s call to Marathon was inconsistent with his pledge to refrain for 2 years from having private communications with Marathon or any other of his former employers concerning NASA business.  In addition, the OIG found that Bolden’s contact with Marathon raised the perception of an appearance of a conflict of interest (even though the OIG investigation found that no actual conflict existed).

“In an interview with the OIG, Bolden admitted that reaching out to Marathon was “inappropriate” and said he has since recused himself from the project and received supplemental training regarding his ethical responsibilities.”

READ IT AT: [NASA report]

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