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NASA IG's Lack of Integrity, Independence

An investigation into the malfeasance of the NASA Inspector General (IG) Robert Cobb is devastating.  The Orlando Sentinel, which obtained a confidential summary of the probe, has an article chock full of details on the disgraceful tenure of Cobb, who still remains at the helm of NASA's Office of the Inspector General.

Among the findings by Department of Housing and Urban Development investigators called into to do the investigation of Cobb, according to the Sentinel:

  • "the number of audit reports issued by Cobb's office plummeted from 62 in 2000 to seven during the first half of the 2006 fiscal year. An audit safety team was abolished. Investigations were derailed, witnesses said, including some related to safety and national security."

  • "Investigators found that Cobb lunched, drank, played golf and traveled with former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, another White House appointee. E-mails from Cobb showed he frequently consulted with top NASA officials on investigations, raising questions about his independence.
    ...HUD investigators heard testimony from other witnesses that suggested O'Keefe's and Cobb's association went beyond the traditional arm's-length relationship between agency heads and inspectors general. E-mail traffic between Cobb, O'Keefe and former NASA General Counsel Paul Pastorek indicated Cobb consulted with them on audits and investigations."

  • "Witnesses told investigators Cobb also intimidated and berated some subordinates to the point of tears. During his tenure as NASA inspector general, the department's employee attrition rate has increased by more than 50 percent, according to figures in the report."

  • Cobb canceled a contract with Price Waterhouse Coopers for NASA's chief financial audit after O'Keefe told the previous NASA IG Roberta Gross that he was unhappy with the audit and had asked Gross to resign.

  • "In one case, Cobb was accused of squelching part of an audit related to the international space station program after conferring with Pastorek. The report notes that investigators found an e-mail where Pastorek wanted to discuss the audit and questioned its analysis and conclusions. Investigators wrote that auditors were told to remove all of the findings from one section, reducing four pages of findings in the draft report to one paragraph in the final version."

  • "In another case, investigators found an e-mail that Cobb sent to O'Keefe informing him of an undercover operation and the pending execution of search warrants."

  • "During Gross' last two full years as NASA inspector general, the office issued an average of 51 audit reports annually, the HUD investigation indicated. During the 3 1/2 years since 2003, the first full year of Cobb's tenure, the office has issued an average of 26 reports annually - about half as many."

  • "In fall 2005, two years after the space shuttle Columbia accident, a safety audit team was abolished, according to HUD investigators. A semiannual report to Congress by the NASA inspector general's office earlier this year indicated that no safety audits were completed during the six-month period ending March 31."

  • "After an audit director asked for budget information in 2002 to determine who was responsible for not spending enough money on the space shuttle's infrastructure, Cobb denied the request, the HUD report said. Witnesses told investigators when an audit manager tried to explain the importance of the information during a teleconference, Cobb told the manager to "shut up." An outside board investigating the Columbia accident the next year criticized NASA for shortchanging shuttle infrastructure."

  • "NASA auditors were not allowed to verify that safety recommendations related to storage of an SR-71 aircraft at the Dryden Flight Research Center were being complied with, investigators wrote. A manager who oversaw the storage is quoted in the HUD report as saying in June 2006 "all of the problems are still the same." The problems included the disposal of hazardous waste."

  • "Investigators found that a review of bird strikes on aircraft at the Kennedy Space Center, proposed amid doubts about the effectiveness of a program to deal with the issue, was delayed. Cobb decided the review "would be incorporated into an overall audit at another time," the HUD report said."

  • "Concerns by several NASA employees that agency security personnel were carrying firearms aboard commercial aircraft without proper legal authority were not investigated."
By: Nick Schwellenbach
Director of Investigations, POGO

Nick Schwellenbach At the time of publication, Nick Schwellenbach was Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Nick Schwellenbach

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