Lawmakers Demand Bush Fire NASA Inspector General

Monday, April 2nd 2007, 8:08 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Three key members of Congress called for the removal Monday of NASA's inspector general, saying he abused his authority, was too chummy with NASA leaders and created a ``hostile'' workplace in the auditing office.

The call for the dismissal of NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb came after the lawmakers received a report on Cobb's conduct from the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which has been investigating complaints about Cobb dating back to 2005.

``Mr. Cobb must be removed for the good of NASA and the nation,'' Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said in a letter to President Bush.

The two lawmakers are chairmen of Senate and House subcommittees with jurisdiction over the space agency. The letter was made public by Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, who also said Cobb should be fired.

Cobb could not be reached Monday night. A telephone message left at the NASA inspector general office, requesting comment, was not immediately returned.

The lawmakers said an investigation by the council found that Cobb had created ``a hostile work environment'' and was involved in ``numerous incidents that, as a group, were sufficient to create an appearance of a lack of independence'' in Cobb's relationship with top NASA officials.

``All members of the committee further believed that disciplinary action up to and including removal could be appropriate,'' the council report said, according to the lawmakers' letter. The lawmakers did not release the full report.

Cobb's conduct has affected his staff's ``ability to conduct audits and investigations for fear of verbal abuse and ridicule,'' Miller and Nelson wrote to the president.

Cobb, had worked as an ethics lawyer in the White House general counsel's office, was named NASA's inspector general in 2002 by the president. Inspectors general are assigned to departments and agencies as independent watchdogs.

The investigation of Cobb's conduct came after multiple complaints that he was abusive to people working in his 200-person office, failed to investigate safety violations and retaliated against whistle-blowers.

The complaints alleged that Cobb tried to ignore or shut down critical investigations, including one into the theft of an estimated $1.9 billion worth of rocket engine data from NASA computers.

While inspectors general are supposed to guard their independence from officials within their agency, investigators found that Cobb socialized with former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe, playing golf, having lunch and traveling with him on occasion.

The complaints first surfaced in 2005 after dozens of workers in Cobb's office quit. Some of the complaints were sent to Nelson's office, who forwarded them to the president's integrity committee.

The lawmakers said in their letter that Cobb, according to the report, ``did not deny any of (the accusations), but gave excuses for each of them.''

In a deposition Cobb, who had no auditing experience, acknowledged that he used profanity and frequently ridiculed the reports produced by his auditors.

He defended his actions, saying he was ``passionate when people are insubordinate in my face'' and he viewed some of the reports from his auditors as ``deplorable and relatively meaningless.''

A decision to fire Cobb will be up to the president. But Gordon promised to keep up the pressure.

``If change for the better doesn't come soon, the committee will take further steps to see that the NASA IG's office is put back on the right track,'' Gordon said in a statement.