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Gordon Says Columbia Commission Changes Short of Goal

Press Release From: Rep. Bart Gordon
Posted: Friday, February 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, in a letter to the president, called changes made by NASA to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board inadequate to ensure an independent review.

Gordon again urged President Bush to make significant revisions to the commission's charter and membership that would assure its full independence.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced changes to the AIB after Gordon, ranking member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, and 16 other committee members sent a letter to the president Feb. 6 urging him to follow the model established by President Reagan's investigation into the 1986 Challenger tragedy.

In his follow up letter today, Gordon termed the changes "a step in the right direction," but noted "they will not provide the AIB with the independence it needs to ensure that its reports will enjoy the full confidence of the Congress and the American people."

(Text of the letter follows)


February 7, 2003

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Sixteen Members of the House Science Committee wrote to you yesterday to respectfully request that the charter for the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (AIB) be re-drafted to broaden its membership, expand its mandate, and ensure its independence from NASA.   We cited as a desirable model the charter of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident (the Rogers Commission), which was created by President Reagan immediately after the 1986 Challenger accident. 

Yesterday, NASA revised the charter to address some of the concerns expressed in our letter.  Although these changes are a step in the right direction, they will not provide the AIB with the independence it needs to ensure that its reports will enjoy the full confidence of the Congress and the American people. 

I would point to these continuing deficiencies in the revised charter:

  • The identified AIB support personnel are NASA employees;
  • Task Force Team members will be drafted from NASA and will be approved by the NASA Administrator;
  • These Task Force Team members will draft the final investigative report for the AIB;
  • The AIB will be subject to "applicable NASA policies and procedures";
  • The AIB will "schedule Board activities, interim Board reports, and submit the final Board report in coordination with the NASA Administrator";
  • The AIB shall "use the established NASA support structures of working groups, NASA Field Center support, and supporting facilities to conduct the investigations";
  • The AIB shall release information and reports "in accordance with applicable NASA policies"; and
  • The AIB will report to the NASA Administrator, rather than to the President or the Congress.

Although NASA's openness on the Columbia accident has been commendable, I remain concerned that the AIB, even under its revised charter, has the appearance of a non-independent board controlled by NASA.  Again, this is in contrast to President Reagan's charter for the establishment of the Rogers Commission.

I would respectfully ask that you direct NASA to expand the membership of the AIB and to undertake a significant revision of its charter to ensure full independence.  The AIB should not be limited to 60 days if they are not able to fully complete their work.  Interim reports to you and the Congress can be provided at intervals during the investigation period. These recommendations are made in the spirit of ensuring a totally credible review and in the hope that the human space flight program may be quickly restored to its unique and inspirational role in American culture.

Sincerely,

/s/ Bart Gordon

BART GORDON
Ranking Democratic Member
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

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