From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Since April 2002, when I became the NASA Inspector General, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has undergone significant changes in its organizational structure and workforce. These changes are intended to improve our ability to root out crime, fraud, waste and abuse, and to promote economy and efficiency at NASA.
Specifically, during this semiannual period the OIG has enhanced the management of the Office of Investigations by establishing a Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations position at Headquarters and adding Resident Agents-In-Charge to our offices at NASA's larger Centers. In the Office of Audits we continued to implement the reorganization strategy created in April 2003 to improve and diversify the skill mix of the audit staff by hiring technical experts and management analysts. We also established an Office of Management and Planning to consolidate the management of our information technology services, strategic planning and development, budget, human resources, and administrative services. Throughout the transition, we have conducted meaningful work in both the Office of Audits and the Office of Investigations. This semiannual report reflects on some of our activities that resulted in published audit works, such as our assessment of the quality assurance process for the redesigned Solid Rocket Booster bolt catchers, and on results from our investigative work including indictments, prosecutions, and convictions for crimes relating to NASA.
The semiannual report does not reflect some other work we are doing or have done to improve the Agency. For example, some of our Office of Audits activities this period have included monitoring various financial management, contract, and Return To Flight matters that do not necessarily fall within the parameters of announced audits and will not result in published reports. Also, investigative work often is not published due to privacy concerns and a desire to maintain confidentiality of sources and investigative techniques. We also frequently answer congressional inquiries or provide information to congressional oversight committees on matters of interest to the legislative branch, and these activities often do not involve the generation of public reports.
Although our work may not always result in a published report, we do not hesitate to present our independent views to the Agency on a broad range of topics. The use of alternative communication strategies, such as formal and informal briefings, allows the OIG to inform the Agency of critical matters in real time so management can take action before issues become problematic.
Allegations of Reprisal and Whistleblowing
In this semiannual period, the OIG dedicated a significant amount of time and resources investigating allegations of reprisal against NASA and contractor employees for raising safety and other concerns. In fulfilling the office's overall mandate, the OIG can and does look at whatever matters it thinks most important to protect the taxpayers' investment in NASA, which may include examining whether management fairly addresses concerns raised by employees on myriad topics.
In the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, a perception arose that NASA culture at times has muted the free flow of information. The OIG is trying to assist the Agency in ensuring that the NASA workplace encourages the free flow of information, especially pertaining to safety, and that those who conscientiously raise issues are protected from reprisal. While the OIG does not have the authority to undo personnel actions taken as reprisal, the OIG can be an advocate to the NASA Administrator to seek redress where appropriate and report to Congress on Agency activity. (The independent agency vested with the responsibility to protect civil service whistleblowers is the Office of Special Counsel [http://www.osc.gov].)
Whistleblower matters are often difficult to untangle because they involve professional disagreements and personality conflicts. The OIG often relies on sources, including confidential and anonymous sources, to conduct its business. Sources may surface fraud, waste and abuse, violations of law, safety issues, and ways of improving the Agency. However, sometimes after conducting an investigation or audit, our office is unable to validate a source's statements. Notwithstanding the challenges associated with these matters, the OIG believes it plays an important check and balance to Agency action. To reflect our views, we published a white paper, Handling Disagreement with Superiors' Decisions and Whistleblowing, which can be found on our Web site at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/ oig/hq/whistleblower.pdf.
During this semiannual report, under the purview of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE), our Office of Audits completed a time-consuming and expensive review of the Department of Treasury OIG's Office of Audits, and the Department of Justice OIG finished its peer review of the NASA OIG Audit program. The peer reviews conducted were compliance audits that determined whether audit policies comply with government auditing standards and if audits are conducted in accordance with those policies, but did not determine whether the audits were meaningful or timely. The peerreview compliance audits, while useful for their intended purpose, are not designed to determine whether the taxpayers' money is being used economically or even appropriately.
My office has made recommendations to the PCIE Audit Committee and its workgroup on peer-review standards that they revise the standards to include steps to assess the economy, efficiency, and timeliness of OIG audits. We will continue to advocate overall improvements in the OIG audit peer-review process.
This report fairly summarizes the activities of the NASA Office of Inspector General during the reporting period.
Robert W. Cobb
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