U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the vice chairman of a key NASA oversight committee, is asking the space agency’s internal watchdog to investigate allegations that White House appointees have created a “dysfunctional and hostile work environment” by improperly politicizing agency decisions and day-to-day operations.

In an Oct. 5 letter to NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, Smith said his concerns were raised by the results of an internal NASA survey showing some career civil servants believe current White House political appointees focus on “Democratic political goals” at the expense of national goals.

“I ask that your office conduct an investigation about specific allegations surfaced in this study, or subsequent to this study, to see if any improper decisions or efforts have been taken to steer agency funding and contracts, circumvent the civil service hiring process, or fraud, waste, abuse or other mismanagement of agency resources to benefit ‘Democratic political goals,’” Smith wrote in the letter, a copy of which was sent to reporters.

Smith asked the inspector general to report his findings to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee by early February.

NASA spokesman David Weaver said in an Oct. 7 statement that employee surveys conducted over the last several years have consistently ranked NASA as one of the best places to work in the federal government. “In fact, NASA’s overall scores for 2010 were higher than in any other previous survey dating back to 2003 … And according to [the Office of Personnel and Management’s] annual View Point Survey, three-quarters of NASA’s employees hold the agency’s leadership in ‘high regard’ and are ‘satisfied’ with their jobs,” Weaver said. “In fact, NASA ranks in the top five of all federal agencies based on OPM’s review.

“Obviously, should the Inspector General choose to conduct a review of this matter, NASA will fully cooperate,” Weaver said.