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Letter from Sen. Nelson Regarding NASA General Counsel Wholley

Status Report From: Sen. Bill Nelson
Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dr. Michael Griffin
Administrator
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC 20546

Subject: NASA Inspector General (IG) Investigation

Dear Dr. Griffin:

On Friday, April 27, NASA General Counsel Mike Wholley briefed my staff on the status of the investigation of NASA's Inspector General (IG). He also gave an account of his role in the destruction of recordings of the April 10 meeting between you and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The following new information was gleaned from Friday's briefing:

1. Counsel Wholley admitted that he personally destroyed the April 10 recordings after making a determination that they did not constitute official records under the Federal Records Act. His stated reason for destroying the records was that he did not want them available to the public under a Freedom of Information Act request. He further stated that the recordings were not evidence of anything improper, but rather would have demonstrated that your contact with the staff of the OIG was entirely appropriate.

Counsel Wholley's actions are troubling. As I'm sure you are aware, the relationship between the NASA IG and NASA senior management is a key focus of the ongoing Congressional investigation into Mr. Cobb's conduct. Even if Wholley's motives were innocuous, his actions create serious appearance problems for the agency and distract from our common goal of building support for NASA's mission.

2. Counsel Wholley described a close working relationship with Mr. Cobb that has continued even during the Integrity Committee's investigation and includes frequent meetings, advice to Mr. Cobb on management issues in Mr. Cobb's office, and discussion of Mr. Cobb's complaints about the Integrity Committee's investigation. Mr. Cobb's current deputy is a former Marine colleague of Wholley's and was selected by Mr. Cobb on Wholley's referral and recommendation.

These revelations support the findings of the Integrity Committee that there is at least an appearance of lack of independence of the NASA IG. It appears that the firewall that should exist between NASA management and the NASA OIG has been dismantled, leaving a dysfunctional relationship that both precludes effective oversight by the OIG and could pose a conflict of interest for NASA management and the IG.

3. After receiving the Integrity Committee's report and findings, Counsel Wholley performed his own evaluation of the allegations and evidence against Mr. Cobb. Notwithstanding the findings of the Integrity Committee, Wholley formed his own legal opinion that no wrongdoing had occurred and based his recommended corrective actions on his own conclusions, not those of the Integrity Committee.

There is nothing in the Integrity Committee's procedures or the governing executive order providing for a separate evaluation of the Integrity Committee's findings by the agency. To do so vitiates the work of the Integrity Committee, which had expended time and resources independently investigating the allegations, weighing the evidence, and issuing their findings. Wholley's actions raised the issue of conflict of interest, both for the reasons cited above, and by his office being named in some of the allegations against Mr. Cobb.

My concerns about the effectiveness of the NASA Inspector General and his relationship with senior NASA management are growing, and I am increasingly convinced that this situation is an unnecessary distraction from NASA's real challenges. It is apparent to me that there is either a lack of understanding or appreciation at NASA for the role of an independent inspector general.

Accordingly, I am renewing my call for Mr. Cobb's resignation and recommend that you require Counsel Wholley's resignation as well. I recommend that you use the expertise available on the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, to reconstitute the NASA OIG, and revisit the policies and procedures governing the relationship between OIG and NASA management.

Sincerely,

Bill Nelson, Chairman

Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

cc: Senator Hutchison
Senator Grassley
Representative Miller
Mr. Clay Johnson/OMB
Mr. Robert Cobb/NASA IG

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