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By almost any measure, the Bush administration’s watchdog at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been far less active than either his predecessor or inspectors general at agencies of similar size. And, at a minimum, NASA’s watchdog, Robert Cobb, created an appearance of being too close to the department he oversees. These were among the findings of a probe initiated following a litany of allegations from inside the NASA Inspector General’s office (IG). The investigation was undertaken on behalf of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) and conducted by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Among the findings, according to the Orlando Sentinel, were that “the number of audit reports issued by Cobb’s office plummeted from 62 in 2000 to seven during the first half of the 2006 fiscal year.” The probe also found, according to the Sentinel, that an audit safety team was abolished and that witnesses said IG investigations were quashed, including several related to national security and safety. In addition, serious questions about Cobb’s independence from NASA’s senior management were raised by HUD investigators. Cobb, for example, told NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe about the existence of search warrants related to a criminal probe, before the warrants were executed. The PCIE’s Integrity Committee found that Cobb’s actions amounted to an abuse of authority and had created “the appearance of a lack of independence.”

Despite bipartisan calls from Congress for Cobb to step down, he remains in his post as NASA’s inspector general. A bill introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and signed by President Bush aims to strengthen the professionalism of the inspectors general and the process through which allegations against the IG’s themselves are investigated. A NASA spokeswoman told the Center, “The NASA administrator proposed to the PCIE chair that the IG attend management training, obtain an executive coach, and meet with the deputy administrator on a bimonthly basis.” She also said the PCIE Integrity Committee accepted the proposals and closed the investigation, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin notified Cobb of the steps he needed to take, and “those steps have been taken.”

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