WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the ranking member of a congressional committee overseeing NASA, U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon wants to see all information concerning the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
The board conducting the investigation, chaired by retired Admiral Harold Gehman Jr., has conducted approximately 200 interviews concerning the Columbia accident. Gehman says much of that testimony is privileged witness statements and will not be shared with Congress.
Gehman initially told senior House Science Committee members that information from the privileged testimony would be shared with them. But Gehman recently reversed himself, stating in a letter sent to the committee that its members would not have access to the testimony.
Gordon had the following response:
"The Board investigating the Columbia tragedy has an important job to do, and we want to support it in its efforts. However, Congress also has an equally important oversight responsibility to the American people that we cannot neglect. If Congress is prevented from reviewing any of the material it needs to properly evaluate the conclusions reached by the Board, it will be impossible to ensure that the results of the investigation will be deemed credible and independent.
"It is clear that congressional committees have the means to ensure that the confidential nature of the testimony will be preserved. After all, Congress routinely deals with national security information of the highest sensitivity, and has procedures in place to protect that information from disclosure."While I believe that it is clear that Congress has a legal right to the accident investigation information, the issue is not primarily legal, i.e., what can the Board do-it is a simple question of what should the Board do to ensure the American people can have confidence that the Board's findings are truly independent. The original mistake of having NASA appoint the Board that is investigating its activities should not be compounded by actions which would only feed perceptions that something is being hidden from Congress. I do not believe that is Admiral Gehman's intention, and I hope we can work with him to achieve an amicable resolution of this matter."