From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2007
Good morning. In January, the Integrity Committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) completed an investigation into allegations of misconduct by Robert "Moose" Cobb, the Inspector General of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The report was damning.
The report found that Mr. Cobb abused his authority and showed a lack of the appearance of independence from NASA management, and concluded that discipline "up to and including removal" was appropriate. After reading the report, Chairman Gordon and I and Senator Bill Nelson, the chair of the counterpart committee in the Senate, called upon President Bush to remove Mr. Cobb and Inspector General of NASA.
Mr. Cobb serves at the pleasure of the President, and it apparently still pleases President Bush for Mr. Cobb to serve as the NASA Inspector General.
This subcommittee will likely hear from Mr. Cobb and others in the next few weeks concerning the allegations of misconduct that were the subject of the PCIE report. As damning as the report was, it appears on closer examination that the report was overly generous.
The subject of this hearing is the conduct of NASA officials in handling the Cobb matter.
Specifically, this hearing concerns a meeting with the staff of the Office of Inspector General of NASA, a meeting all staff members were expected to attend, a meeting at which Mr. Cobb sat beside Administrator Michael Griffin while Administrator Griffin disputed the findings of the PCIE report. NASA officials certainly should have known that such a meeting would only further the appearance of a lack of independence by the NASA Inspector General.
In his prepared statement, Michael Wholly, the General Counsel at NASA, is in high dudgeon about the accounts of NASA employees who attended the meeting, which he testifies "range from the patently false to the ridiculous." He asserts that this subcommittee should be skeptical of "allegations slipped under the door or thrown over the transom, often anonymously or with the request for anonymity." That is exactly how whistle blowers provide information to oversight committees of Congress, and to Inspector Generals acting independently as required by statute.
We could have known for certain just exactly what happened at that meeting, and not had to decide whose wildly conflicting account to believe, because there was a DVD made of the meeting, and then copies were made of the DVD. Mr. Wholly personally destroyed those tapes.
A great American lawyer, Elihu Root, said that "About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop." That is the view of the ethical expectations of a lawyer that I learned in law school, and it remains the expectation set forth in the Code of Professional Responsibility. Instead, the view within NASA apparently was the DVDs could be destroyed absent advice that any legal arguments that the DVDs should be preserved was "CATEGORICALLY,... FATALLY, LEGALLY, FLAWED."
I worry that the ethical obligations of lawyers that I learned in law school are now regarded as quaint and antiquated, like the Geneva Convention.
NASA officials, Mr. Wholly and Paul Morrell, knew that there were questions about the propriety of the meeting, they knew that the Cobb matter was the subject of interest by the oversight committees of the House and Senate, and they knew that the DVD of the meeting would be subject to disclosure, and Mr. Wholly made a conscious decision to destroy the DVDs. It is impossible not to conclude the worst from that conduct.
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