This will be a joint Hearing between the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Space, Aeronautics, and Related Sciences and the House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.
Bill NelsonSenatorU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and TransportationSubcommittee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences
June 7, 2007
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN BILL NELSONGood afternoon and welcome to this hearing on the alleged misconduct by the NASA Inspector General, with a special welcome to our colleagues from the House Science Committee and its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Chairmen Gordon and Miller, and Ranking Member Sensenbrenner, thank you for being with us today.In April we received the results of the Integrity Committee’s investigation of NASA’s Inspector General, Robert Cobb. That independent panel found that Mr. Cobb had abused his office and failed to maintain the appropriate appearance of independence from the agency he is charged with monitoring. Based on the conclusions of the Integrity Committee, I joined Chairmen Gordon and Miller in calling on President Bush to remove Mr. Cobb from office. My position has not changed. However, some of the conduct described in the Integrity Committee’s report is so disturbing that it warrants additional investigation.I am particularly concerned with several specific instances of Mr. Cobb’s misconduct:1. In 2002, foreign computer hackers gained access to sensitive information on a NASA computer, including NASA’s most advanced rocket engine designs. In such situations, federal export control laws require notification to the State Department, but Mr. Cobb ignored the advice of his staff and repeatedly blocked attempts to notify the State Department for fear that disclosure would be embarrassing to NASA.2. In December 2004 and again in June 2005, Mr. Cobb delayed execution of search warrants in criminal investigations after those warrants had been sworn by an assistant U.S. attorney and signed by a federal judge.3. In June 2002, the space shuttle Endeavour was launched with one of two required range safety systems inoperative. Despite the critical safety implications for NASA and the public, Mr. Cobb blocked a NASA OIG investigation, deferring instead to the Air Force, even when it became clear that the Air Force was not thoroughly investigating the matter.NASA is unique among federal agencies. Its mission is to expand the boundaries of exploration, push the limits of technology, and broaden our understanding of our own planet and the universe. All of these activities carry risks – in many cases risks that can jeopardize the lives of NASA employees, astronauts, and the public, along with billions of dollars worth of national assets. After each of NASA’s two major accidents in the past quarter century – Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 – investigators determined that a key contributing factor was a failure to ask questions and a culture that discouraged employees from raising safety concerns.With this history in mind, it is particularly important for NASA employees to know that concerns about safety, waste, fraud, and abuse can be reported to a trustworthy inspector general, and have full confidence that the IG will pursue each case thoroughly, professionally, and independently.Under Mr. Cobb’s leadership, the Office of Inspector General at NASA has become dysfunctional. Fear and mistrust permeate the office. More than half of the experienced professionals in the office have left since Mr. Cobb’s arrival. The boundaries between the IG and the agency’s management have been trampled. The evidence shows us that these are not isolated incidents, but a pattern of misconduct that continues even today. A current senior-level employee in the OIG compared working for Mr. Cobb to being in an abusive relationship. As recently as April 10, OIG employees raised new concerns about Mr. Cobb’s independence from NASA management, and the NASA general counsel destroyed government records in a bungled attempt at damage control related to the Cobb investigation.Congress depends on inspectors general as the first line of oversight at government agencies. Without an effective inspector general at NASA, we have no choice but to increase the frequency and intensity of our own oversight activities. With each new revelation, I am more convinced that the current dysfunction in the NASA OIG is unrecoverable under the current leadership. I am hopeful that the information learned today will be helpful in reconstituting an effective OIG at NASA after Mr. Cobb’s departure.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Debra HerzogSenior SpecialistOffice of the Inspector General, U.S. Postal ServiceHearing before the Subcommittee onSpace, Aeronautics, and Related SciencesCommittee on Commerce, Science, and TransportationUnited States SenateandSubcommittee on Investigations and OversightCommittee on Science and TechnologyUnited States House of RepresentativesOral StatementOversight Review of the Investigationof theNASA Inspector GeneralMr. Robert W. CobbDebra HerzogFormer Deputy Assistant Inspector General for InvestigationsNASA Office of Inspector GeneralMr. Chairman and members of the committees, I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to share my experience as the former Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations under NASA Inspector General, Mr. Robert Cobb.My federal career began over 20 years ago in 1983 as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. I served until 2000 with U.S. Attorneys Offices in such positions as the Chief of the Narcotics Section, Regional Coordinator for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, White Collar Crime/Public Corruption Chief, Chief of Major Investigations, and on details with the Department of Justice and the United States Customs Service. For 4 years before I joined NASA, I was the Senior Advisor to the Assistant Commissioner, Office of Internal Affairs, United States Customs Service.In November 2004, I was selected by NASA Inspector General, Robert Cobb as the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations. I served in that position until December 11, 2005 when I joined the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General as a Senior Attorney.My testimony today summarizes some of my experiences and observations while at the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG). During my pre-employment interview with Mr. Cobb, he expressed his unhappiness with management in the Office of Investigations by stating the investigators needed a “grown-up” to supervise. I accepted the position with the impression that Mr. Cobb wished to improve the quality of the work and believed I would be instrumental in that effort.One of my early experiences with Mr. Cobb was so disturbing that I considered leaving the OIG immediately afterwards. At a scheduled weekly meeting, Mr. Cobb, in front of his deputy and my supervisor, berated me concerning a single word in a letter. In an ensuing monologue, loudly peppered with profanities, Mr. Cobb insulted and ridiculed me. After the meeting, I told Mr. Cobb one-on-one that I did not expect my superior to use profanity, it was unacceptable behavior, and I would not tolerate profanity. Mr. Cobb listened and gave me no indication if he agreed or disagreed. In the months to come, I regularly observed or heard of Mr. Cobb using profanity to humiliate and demean employees.Mr. Cobb exhibited a consistent lack of understanding concerning federal law enforcement. In two cases approximately six months apart, Mr. Cobb was notified several hours before search warrants were to be executed at NASA facilities by OIG and FBI agents. Mr. Cobb said he would not allow the warrants to proceed before he read the affidavits, despite the fact that the responsible OIG supervisor approved the warrant, the Assistant United States Attorney believed the warrant was sufficient, and it was signed by a United States Magistrate Judge. After reading the warrants, Mr. Cobb’s opinions included there was no probable cause established, the Assistant United States Attorney was stupid, the NASA agents must have “hoodwinked” the Magistrate, and Mr. Cobb was overly concerned about the possible reaction of NASA’s senior management. Finally, after much discussion, Mr. Cobb reluctantly allowed the agents to execute the warrants. During my short tenure at NASA, at least 5 other warrants were issued and executed at locations other than NASA property. Mr. Cobb did not express any interest in those affidavits or warrants.The incident that convinced me I could no longer be effective in my job, occurred in August 2005. Mr. Cobb directed a case accepted for civil prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, be withdrawn pending a review of the investigation at OIG headquarters. In my 17 years as a federal prosecutor, I had never seen that done. Mr. Cobb claimed he was not aware the case had been presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, a bi-weekly case reporting document provided to Mr. Cobb in June proved otherwise.Subsequently Mr. Cobb claimed the NASA special agent in charge of the case who wrote the withdrawal letter was trying to “set him up.” The Assistant U.S. Attorney endorsed the work of the case agent, the case preparation, and the investigative report. Yet, in a subsequent meeting about the case, Mr. Cobb leaned over his desk, just feet from my face, his face red, and his fists clenched and screamed at the same time slamming his hand on his on desk so hard I jumped….”you know as well as I do that this report is a [profanity removed] piece of [profanity removed]!”In closing, Mr. Cobb’s arrogance, bullying style, and questionable independence limit his ability to lead the NASA OIG and has in turn demoralized the OIG workforce. As an example, a recently hired employee, after only 2 days at the NASA OIG, called the agency she left requesting her old job back because most of the staff spent a good portion of the workday looking for a way out.I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Mr. Kevin CarsonAssistant Inspector General for AuditsOffice of the Inspector General, Government Printing OfficeStatement ofKevin J. CarsonBefore theSENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATION’SSUBCOMMITTEE ON SPACE, AERONAUTICS, AND RELATED SCIENCESANDHOUSE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE’S SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS AND OVERSIGHTJune 7, 2007Mr. Chairmen and Members of the Committees:Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss my experiences while employed in the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG).Since March 2005, I have been employed as the Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Inspections at the U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of Inspector General in Washington, D.C. Previously, I worked over 15 years (August 1989 to March 2005) for the NASA OIG. While with the NASA OIG, I held a variety of audit positions including Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits, Director of Audit Quality, and Program Director for Safety and Security Audits. Including my employment with the NASA OIG, I have spent approximately 27 years of my career in various Federal audit organizations.I have been invited here today to provide testimony related to my time and experience in the NASA OIG while working under the direction of NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb. In order to talk about this time period, I must first discuss my experience with the organization prior to Mr. Cobb’s appointment in April 2002.
NASA OIG Prior to 2002In early 1999, the previous NASA Inspector General Roberta Gross, upon the NASA Administrator stating that the Agency’s Number One Priority was “Safety,” appointed me to form a directorate whose specific mission was to audit safety and security issues within NASA. While forming the directorate with a small staff of auditors, the directorate quickly performed a series of audits and issued reports addressing various safety issues primarily at NASA’s manned space flight centers. Among the first reports issued by the directorate included:
- IG-00-028 Safety Concerns with Kennedy Space Center's Payload Ground Operations, March 30, 2000,
- IG-00-035 Contractor Safety Requirements at Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center, June 5, 2000,
- IG-01-017 Space Shuttle Program Management Safety Observations, March 23, 2001,
- IG-01-034 Controls Over the Use of PFA’s In and Around the Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicles, August 31, 2001,
During the first 2 years the directorate was in existence, we also issued several other reports related to issues such as controls over Foreign National Visitors at NASA Centers, Management and Administration of International Agreements at NASA, and NASA Oversight of Contractor Exports of Controlled Technologies. The directorate was also responsible for audits of classified NASA Programs and Projects.Some of the highlights of the reports issued included the report on Safety of Lifting Devices and Equipment at Stennis which resulted from a request by the NASA Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance. The audit identified significant safety issues related to lifting devices and equipment and found that Stennis did not safely perform critical lifts of high-dollar items such as space hardware, one-of-a-kind test articles, major facility components, or personnel. In addition, we found that operators and riggers were not properly trained and certified, operators used cranes with safety deficiencies, and crane maintenance and inspections were inadequate.At the request of the House Science Committee, we performed an audit of safety related to Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Ground Operations and found that various materials used in processing facilities at the Kennedy Space Center consistently failed required tests for flammability resistance and electrostatic discharge. These potentially hazardous materials included plastic films, foams, and adhesive (PFAs) tapes used by payload processing personnel under the center’s Payload Ground Operations Contract. These materials had been used without approval of the Kennedy Safety Office since 1992. We also found that NASA had not identified, documented, and appropriately mitigated the risks of using these potentially hazardous materials, exposing personnel and flight hardware to increased risks.On the audit of the United Space Alliance’s (USA’s) safety procedures under NASA’s Space Flight Operations Contract (SFOC), we reviewed the oversight of USA's safety procedures for the Space Shuttle Program at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (Johnson). We found that the Johnson Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance Office (Johnson Safety Office) was not providing the required support to the Space Shuttle Program Safety Manager, for oversight of USA’s safety activities. We also found that NASA’s contractor surveillance plans do not address all SFOC requirements for safety; and USA’s reporting to NASA of close calls and mishaps needed improvement. We concluded that NASA did not have adequate management controls in place to ensure (1) effective oversight of USA's safety operations under the SFOC, (2) better control over $13 million in annual Space Shuttle Program funds provided to the Johnson Safety Office, and (3) that adequate corrective actions are taken on all safety mishaps and close calls. This report and its results were discussed in the August 2003 Report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in Chapter 7, “The Accident’s Organizational Causes.”We also reviewed USA’s controls over the use of plastic films, foams, and adhesive tapes (PFA’s) used in and around the orbiter vehicles and other segments of the Space Shuttle such as the solid rocket boosters and main engines. We found that USA was routinely using in and around the Space Shuttle orbiter vehicles, PFA’s that had no record of being tested to ensure that the PFA’s met NASA standards for flammability resistance, electrostatic discharge (ESD) rate, or compatibility with rocket fuel. In addition, neither Kennedy Space Center nor USA safety personnel had approved the use of these materials, thereby creating a potential safety hazard to personnel, the orbiter vehicles, and other flight hardware and equipment.Each of the highlighted reports addressed potentially serious safety issues within NASA and within the manned spaceflight program. I believe that the success of the Safety and Security Directorate was directly attributable to the outstanding professionalism and work ethic of the managers and staff and their collective dedication to the NASA mission. It also helped that the directorate’s work was always supported by then Inspector General Roberta Gross. Although we issued some controversial reports that were not always accepted by the agency, I always felt that the directorate had the complete support of senior OIG management including Ms. Gross. Further highlights from the initial years of the directorate included on two occasions, in 1999 and 2001, the directorate received the OIG Audit Report of the Year Award. One of these reports related to Contractor Safety Requirements and was transmitted by the NASA Administrator to every NASA Center Director, who was directed by the Administrator to implement the recommendations at their respective centers.In late 2001, I was selected to be the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audits. In this position, I had four audit directorates that reported to me including the Safety and Security Directorate. The directorate continued to produce high-value audit products.April 2002 to March 2005In April 2002, Robert Cobb was appointed the NASA Inspector General. Although the Office of Audits initially continued to operate as previously, within 3 to 4 months there was a noticeable change. Specifically, there was considerably more involvement in writing, rewriting, and revising audit reports by the Inspector General. There was also considerable questioning of the audit results with Mr. Cobb frequently not agreeing with the conclusions and recommendations in audit reports. There was also what I would say was a general disrespect shown by Mr. Cobb for auditors in particular. Mr. Cobb would often make comments like “anybody can perform an audit” or when an auditor would mention something like compliance with government audit standards, he would make the statement that he had read the government audit standards and that all they were was “something for auditors to hide behind.” He also on more than one occasion mentioned to me that the safety audit directorate had “produced nothing of value to the Agency,” that our audits were “archaeological digs” or that we were “too far in the weeds.”It was also during this time period that Mr. Cobb appeared to be providing our reports to agency officials for review and comment prior to official draft release in order to determine whether the agency would agree with our findings and recommendations. On one such occasion, a proposed draft audit report on the International Space Station (ISS) was provided to the NASA General Counsel to review prior to official release. The NASA General Counsel did not agree with a conclusion in the report related to the potential for NASA noncompliance with various international agreements on the ISS. Prior to release of the report, the audit team was instructed to remove this section from the report or the report would not be issued.In instances like the previous one, if any of the senior audit managers were to disagree with Mr. Cobb or try to defend our conclusions and recommendations, we were subject to severe berating and profane language by Mr. Cobb. During these tirades about audits and auditors, I never once saw Mr. Cobb’s Deputy Inspector general ever support the audit staff or the rationale for their conclusions even though they were clearly supported by audit evidence. In fact, Mr. Cobb’s Deputy often made matters worse for the Office of Audits despite having been an auditor himself for many years.2003 Audit ReorganizationIn January 2003, the office of audits was advised by Mr. Cobb that it would be merged with the office of inspections and that all senior management positions in the reorganized office would be moved to NASA Headquarters so that there could be “face-to-face accountability.” Mr. Cobb frequently stated that he wanted these senior managers in Washington so that he could personally “choke them.”In February 2003, the Office of Audits was merged with the Office of Inspections into the Office of Audits. The new Assistant Inspector General for Audits (AIGA) selected to head up the new organization was the previous Assistant Inspector General for Inspections who had no experience either performing audits or managing any type of audit organization. The previous AIGA was placed in the position of Deputy AIGA.As part of the reorganization, I was transferred to NASA Headquarters and reverted to my former position as Director of Safety and Security Audits. It was made clear to me by both the new AIGA and his deputy that Mr. Cobb never expected any of the senior managers like me, who were located at field centers, to accept the transfer to Headquarters. The new AIGA even mentioned that Mr. Cobb now had me where he could “choke me.”After arriving at Headquarters in April 2003, I had even more contact with Mr. Cobb. It was also during this time that the Columbia accident occurred and the invest8igation of its cause had begun. As the Director of Safety and Security Audits, my directorate assumed a large role in directing the work of the OIG related to the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) which published its final report and recommendations in August 2003. In response to the CAIB report, I compiled a plan to review the Agency’s implementation of most of the recommendations. In addition, I was authorized to hire additional technical staff to assist with the work to be performed.It was also during this period, that Mr. Cobb began further interference with the work of the directorate through either constant rewriting of products or attacking the work of the staff and technical experts to the point where findings and recommendations were either never officially issued to the Agency or were issued unofficially by Mr. Cobb to various Agency officials and thus never posted publicly to the NASA OIG website.CAIB Organizational RecommendationsThere are several instances of the stifling or covering up of audit results by Mr. Cobb that I can provide. For example, my staff and I were responsible for reviewing all Agency actions and plans related to the organizational safety recommendations of the CAIB, specifically, (1) the establishment of an Independent Technical Engineering Authority (ITEA), and (2) straight line authority and funding for the Space Shuttle Program safety organization.On at least three different occasions beginning in December 2003, my staff prepared audit reports basically concluding that NASA was not establishing the ITEA or Space Shuttle Program safety organization in the manner intended by the CAIB. Specifically, we stated that NASA had not fully achieved the reporting and funding independence for either function recommended by the CAIB. We concluded that Technical Warrant Holders-those individuals the NASA Chief Engineer empowered to ensure compliance with technical standards and requirements, lacked independence from major program influences. We further stated that NASA’s plans to strengthen safety functions did not provide for a safety official at the centers to be accountable to the head of safety at NASA Headquarters. Based on the structure the Agency was proposing, we concluded that the individuals ultimately held accountable for ITEA and safety would be subject to cost, schedule, and other pressures from the same program they would be responsible for independently assessing.Despite drafting three reports with basically this same message over a period of 15 months, Mr. Cobb refused to release any of them. On a couple of occasions, these issues were addressed in either a letter signed by Mr. Cobb or an e-mail sent by Mr. Cobb to selected NASA officials.On October 6, 2004 during my monthly Directorate briefing, the subject of this review was brought up and Mr. Cobb stated that my staff had spent almost a year reviewing the ITEA and Safety recommendations of the CAIB yet “had nothing to show for it.” When I reminded Mr. Cobb that my staff had prepared three separate audit reports that he chose not to issue, he stated that he was not satisfied with the message of the reports. I defended the work of my staff and stated that the reports were right on the issue and that they should be issued. I subsequently have been told that the current NASA Administrator made several of the organizational changes with safety and the ITEA that we had recommended in our reports despite the fact that they were never issued.Cape Canaveral Air Station Command DestructDuring October 2004, my Directorate also received a referral from the NASA OIG Office of Investigations concerning a “potential safety issue involving command destruct” at the Eastern Test Range of Cape Canaveral Air Station. The allegation concerned a possible safety violation that occurred in conjunction with a launch of the Space Shuttle in 2002. Specifically, that during the June 5, 2002 launch of the Space Shuttle, the Commander of the Eastern Range overruled the “No-Go” recommendations of the Air Force’s Mission Flight Control Officer (MFCO) and Chief of Safety and proceeded to declare the range “Go” for launch of the Space Shuttle. The reason for the “No-Go” recommendations of the MFCO and Chief of Safety was that there was a failure of the backup Command Destruct System which was not certified as mission capable prior to launch as required. The original allegation had been referred to the NASA OIG by the U.S. Air Force Inspector General in August 2003. After reviewing the allegation for any potential criminal violations, the Office of Investigations referred it to audits and my directorate because of the potential safety issues involved with the allegations.Upon assigning this issue to a member of my staff, who was an Air Force officer with an extensive safety background, it quickly became apparent that there was substantial merit to the allegation and that the sequence of events, where the Range Commander overruled the MFCO and Chief of Safety and declared the range go for launch despite a less than fully certified Command Destruct System, was unprecedented. To verify that this situation did in fact occur, a total of 9 witnesses were interviewed who were present on console for the launch. We also reviewed various launch-related records. Since the NASA firing room and the range control center are not co-located, the NASA Launch Director and Mission Management Team Chair at the time relied solely on the Go recommendation of the Eastern Range Commander without any NASA independent verification. Both of these individuals also stated that they would not have launched had they known that the Air Force MFCO and Chief of Safety were “No-GO’ for launch.Upon completion of our preliminary work, my staff and I arranged to brief Mr. Cobb on February 23, 2005 on the results of our review to include the work remaining to complete the review and what our preliminary recommendations to NASA would be. The staff and I had previously met with Safety Officials at Kennedy in January 2005 and had obtained their agreement with our proposed recommendations. We received complete concurrence with our primary recommendation that NASA Safety must positively verify the Eastern Range status and range configuration prior to every launch. At the briefing onFebruary 23, 2005, I was promptly told by Mr. Cobb at the completion of the briefing that this situation “was the Air Force’s problem.” While reporting of this situation would have been controversial to the Agency, it was not a surprise to me that Mr. Cobb would not allow any further work on this assignment to be performed. I am unaware whether this situation concerning launches has ever been addressed or corrected.Other InstancesWhile I have discussed the above two instances where my directorate was either interfered with by Mr. Cobb, not allowed to complete work, or not allowed to issue reports, there were numerous other examples of this type of behavior throughout my directorate or throughout the Office of Audits. For example, despite allegations of the possible NASA misuse of funds appropriated by Congress for security at Federal Agencies subsequent to September 11, I was told by the Assistant Inspector General for Audits that Mr. Cobb would not allow an audit of that area because it would only serve as an “archaeological dig” and would be embarrassing to NASA.In another instance, an audit report was drafted by my Directorate addressing noncompliance at Kennedy Space Center with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. The draft report discussed the lack of PSM procedures for the transportation of highly hazardous chemicals via the Kennedy railroad. Specifically, neither the United Space Alliance (USA) nor Space Gateway Services (SGS) had developed PSM procedures for the railroad transportation of space shuttle solid rocket motor segments (which contain ammonium perchlorate) and nitrogen tetroxide (which was transported on behalf of the US Air Force). Neither contractor believed that they were responsible for the PSM program of the railroad and neither believed that the PSM standard applied to Kennedy railroad operations. The report illustrated the need for PSM procedures related to the railroad by discussing several railroad mishaps that had occurred over the previous 3 years. After reviewing the report, Mr. Cobb stated that the report was “based on a flawed premise” and directed that the report be rewritten to address the need for improved oversight and safety procedures for the KSC railroad itself, including inspections and maintenance of the railcars and the track. This direction required additional work by the audit team despite the fact that sufficient work related to the PSM issued had already been performed. Due to the change in direction of the assignment by Mr. Cobb, the OIG was not involved in any further actions related to PSM as it applies to the Kennedy railroad.ConclusionIn summary, by constantly writing and re-writing audit reports, not allowing audits of potentially controversial issues to be performed or reports of completed audits to be publicly issued, constantly denigrating the audit staff in public and in private, intimidating auditors and staff through the use of verbal threats, foul language and intimidating gestures, Mr. Cobb showed that he lacked independence from Agency officials and was willing to go to any length not to issue audit reports that would embarrass the Agency. In my opinion, he clearly created and endorsed a hostile work environment. Thank you, and I would be pleased to answer any questions.
- IG-01-042 Safety of Lifting Devices and Equipment at Stennis Space Center, September 28, 2001,
Mr. Lance CarringtonDeputy Assistant Inspector General InvestigationsOffice of the Inspector General, U.S. Postal ServiceHearing before the Subcommittee onSpace, Aeronautics, and Related SciencesCommittee on Commerce, Science, and TransportationUnited States SenateandSubcommittee on Investigations and OversightCommittee on Science and TechnologyUnited States House of RepresentativesOral StatementOversight Review of the Investigationof theNASA Inspector GeneralMr. Robert W. CobbLance G. CarringtonFormerAssistant Inspector General for InvestigationsNASA Office of Inspector GeneralMr. Chairman and members of the committees, I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to share my experience as the former Assistant Inspector General for Investigations under NASA Inspector General, Mr. Robert W. Cobb.My professional life is one of public service starting with the United States Army with over six years of active duty and twelve years in the U.S. Army Reserve. I spent seventeen years with the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the last two years with the Postal Service OIG. In 25 years of public service I have served as a federal law enforcement officer, manager and executive.When I became the NASA OIG Assistant Inspector General for Investigations in September 2002, Mr. Cobb was focusing efforts on the OIG’s audit work. I recall at that time, Mr. Cobb was upset because some GS-15 level audit directors were being paid more than he was. Mr. Cobb decided to transfer the field audit director positions to OIG headquarters in Washington, DC. In order to accomplish the transfers, buyouts were used. This had a negative effect by not allowing these positions to be backfilled with the same audit job series that were eliminated through the buyout.Mr. Cobb told me his expectations of my performance as the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations included being responsible for everything that happened in the Office of Investigations and he further expected me to know every detail on every case at all times. We had over 400 open cases; it was an impossible expectation for anyone.Mr. Cobb often complained that special agents did not write well and referred to their work as crap; regardless of any successes. To help mitigate Mr. Cobb’s negative attitude about the special agents I reviewed and edited every investigative report or document that Mr. Cobb would see.Mr. Cobb routinely referred to Special Agents as knuckle draggers. I repeatedly asked Mr. Cobb what he wanted and what we could do to improve. He always replied that he didn’t know, but when he saw it he would tell me. Other than Mr. Cobb telling me to keep him informed of everything going on in the Office of Investigations, he never told me what he wanted in the three years I was the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations.Mr. Cobb would tell me and other senior investigative managers that special agents do not work for the US Attorney and for us to make sure the special agents knew their boss was the IG. In addition, Mr. Cobb told our attorneys that their legal opinions did not count, that the IG’s legal opinion was the only one that counted.Mr. Cobb’s personal interaction with the staff consisted of yelling and ridiculing and the more it affected them emotionally such as crying or other reactions, the more he did it. The atmosphere became like sharks in a feeding frenzy. The Deputy IG and the Executive Officer would join in appearing to enjoy it while making reassuring and supportive glances to each other. As an example, Mr. Cobb in one instance told an attorney her opinion did not count and proceeded to demean and ridicule her in front of the group. The attorney left the meeting visibly shaken and had to be consoled by the Lead Counsel as she wept.On another occasion, the OIG’s special agent in charge at the Goddard Space Flight Center and several of his staff were briefing an investigative case at headquarters. Mr. Cobb and the Deputy IG verbally berated the special agent in charge because he misspoke facts concerning the case. There was an ensuing feeding frenzy that was uncalled for and embarrassing to everyone in the room, including the special agent in charge’s subordinates.Mr. Cobb routinely used profanity when he spoke to me and other employees, stating F___ them and G__ D __ them. It was a daily occurrence that offended many in the office. On one occasion, Ms. Debra Herzog, my deputy was trying to make a legal point with Mr. Cobb from her perspective as a former federal prosecutor. Mr. Cobb did not agree with her and rose up out his chair from behind his desk, leaned forward and started yelling and cussing at her. As the tears began welling up in her eyes I changed the subject so we could leave the room.At my mid-year and annual performance review sessions Mr. Cobb would always say he was not happy with my performance. When I asked for details, Mr. Cobb would respond that everything was wrong; I had to fix it, but he could not provide me with any specific examples. During one of my performance review meetings, Mr. Cobb brought up a complex fraud case I had worked as an agent and later supervised over a seven year period. The case resulted in a $6.1 million recovery to NASA. Mr. Cobb told me he guessed he should have rewarded or recognized me for that case, but that I knew how it was.In an attempt to show Mr. Cobb the quality of investigative work the OIG was doing; I showed Mr. Cobb a $3.94 million settlement check payable to NASA we had just received. Mr. Cobb’s response was that it did not mean anything to him. I asked him why and he said, “Because I had nothing to do with it.” I explained that it was representative of our office, his office. He told me it didn’t matter because he did not have anything to do with it.The OIG was scheduled for a Presidents Commission on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) Peer Review by the Department of Transportation (DOT) OIG. Mr. Cobb asked to meet privately with the DOT’s Assistant Inspector General for Investigations who would be leading the review. After the meeting, the DOT Assistant Inspector General for Investigations called me from his office and asked me what was going on? I told him I did not know what he was talking about. He said Mr. Cobb wanted the Peer Review to dig into the management activities of the OIG’s special agent in charge at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and also my activities. He went on to explain that Mr. Cobb was asking him to dig up dirt Mr. Cobb could use against us. He also said he told Mr. Cobb that the Peer Review was not set up to do that and he would not do it.Sometime later, Mr. Cobb directed me to get rid of the special agent in charge at the Goddard Space Flight Center. I asked Mr. Cobb the reason for this decision because the special agent in charge was doing a good job. Mr. Cobb said he did not want him around. I told the special agent in charge that Mr. Cobb was not fond of him and if I were in his shoes, I’d look elsewhere. About a month later the special agent left to take a job with the Transportation Security Administration.After the special agent in charge departed, Mr. Cobb again told me he was not happy with my performance and threatened to make me the special agent in charge at the Goddard Space Flight Center. I asked Mr. Cobb for specific reasons and he said he was just not happy. I told him I had done everything he had asked me to do. I told him I even submitted numerous management-training requests to the Deputy IG for continued improvement, but had no reply. He called the Deputy IG into the meeting and the Deputy IG confirmed he still had the requests and had not approved them.In many investigative cases Mr. Cobb appeared to have a lack of independence when NASA officials were subjects, or if arrest/search warrants were obtained for NASA facilities. Mr. Cobb would question every aspect of the cases and gave the appearance he wanted to derail them before agents were given adequate time to investigate the allegations.There were several cases where NASA officials were alleged to have committed crimes, and search warrants were obtained for their offices and computers. Mr. Cobb intervened claiming there was no probable cause and he did not want NASA agents executing the warrants. Only after explaining to Mr. Cobb that the cases were joint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the searches would be executed without NASA special agents did he relent.Another case, Mr. Cobb’s lack of independence became apparent after the fact. In this case OIG’s Houston investigative office was asked by the Johnson Space Center Legal Office to assist the Texas Rangers with their ongoing investigation into an alleged missing ring, property of one of the female Columbia Astronauts. The Rangers had exhausted all leads attempting to determine if the ring existed and whether it was stolen. As a last resort, the Rangers drafted a Crime Stoppers alert they planned to distribute to the media and as a courtesy, asked the OIG to review it. I provided Mr. Cobb a copy of the draft alert. Mr. Cobb lost his temper and yelled at me saying that if the media got a hold of it he would have to resign. I reminded him that it was not our case and that we were merely assisting the Rangers at the request of NASA. Later that evening Mr. Cobb called me at home and proceeded to yell and use profanities at me again about the crime stoppers alert. Mr. Cobb was so loud I had to go into the garage so my family would not hear him. Mr. Cobb would not listen or try to understand it was the Rangers decision. He continued to yell and use profanities, stating that he would have to resign if the alert was released.I did not understand, at the time, why Mr. Cobb was so upset about the alert until weeks later at an OIG senior staff meeting. Mr. Cobb mentioned the NASA Administrator had previously ordered him and all NASA senior staff not to speak or do anything with the Columbia Astronauts’ families. The Administrator was the only one who could talk to the families. I then realized why Mr. Cobb was upset about the alert. If the OIG and the Rangers issued the Crime Stoppers Alert, Mr. Cobb considered himself to be in direct violation of the order from the NASA Administrator.Mr. Cobb was always dissatisfied with everything in the Office of Investigations. I finally asked him if he even wanted the special agents working cases. He told me no and I said that if that was the situation he did not need me around. He agreed and I told him I would seek employment elsewhere. Two weeks later I gave him my two weeks notice.I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Ms. Danielle BrianExecutive DirectorProject on Government OversightTestimony of Danielle Brian, Executive DirectorProject On Government Oversight (POGO)before a joint hearing of theSenate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’sSubcommittee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciencesand theHouse Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigationsregarding“Oversight Review of the Investigationof theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Inspector General”June 7, 2007253 Russell Senate Office Building
Chairmen Nelson and Miller, thank you for inviting me to testify today. My name is Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). POGO is an independent nonprofit that has, for over 25 years, investigated and exposed corruption and misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government.The subject of this hearing raises a number of timely issues. Inspector General (IG) offices play a tremendously important role in advancing good government practices, but only if they are led by independent and qualified IGs. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the 1978 Inspector General Act. This is the perfect time to determine the strengths and possible weaknesses of the IG system given the current investigations into several IGs.The intent of Congress in creating these watchdogs was to have an office within agencies that would balance the natural inclinations of agency or department heads to minimize bad news, and instead give Congress a more complete picture of agency operations. That intention is clearly shown by Congress’ decision to break with tradition, and create a dual-reporting structure where IGs would report not only to the agency head but also directly to Congress itself.It is this independence from the agency the IG is overseeing that gives the office its credibility. Not only the actual independence, but also the appearance of independence allows the IG’s stakeholders, including the Administrator, Congress, the IG’s auditors and investigators, and potential whistleblowers, to have faith in the office. In this case, it appears Inspector General Robert W. Cobb no longer enjoys that credibility with any of the constituencies other than the Administrator’s office.Over the past year, POGO has held monthly bi-partisan Congressional Oversight Training Sessions for Capitol Hill staff. We regularly tell participants that the IGs at agencies within their jurisdiction can be important allies and sources of honest assessments. Unfortunately, we also have to point out that not all IGs are qualified and independent.In the case of NASA IG Cobb, current and former IG staff allege, and the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) confirms, an abuse of power and the appearance of a lack of independence. Mr. Cobb disputes the basic facts in both cases cited by the PCIE. However, even if one were to discount the two cases as inconclusive, there remains indisputable evidence that Mr. Cobb simply does not understand the need to, or even how to, remain at arms length from NASA’s Administrator. For example, he defends himself against these findings by citing NASA Administrator Michael Griffin’s approval of his work as proof he should remain the NASA IG. That, in itself, indicates how insensitive Mr. Cobb is to the problem. In fact, Administrator Griffin should be the last person he cites as evidence of his independence.
Much has been made in the press of Mr. Cobb’s golfing and lunches with former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, which are somewhat disturbing. But those are really just atmospherics. From POGO’s perspective, there are far more troubling problems. It is untenable that, according to the PCIE report, Mr. Cobb has on occasion conferred with NASA’s Administrator and General Counsel regarding the scope and findings of his audits. Furthermore, Mr. Cobb at least twice delayed the execution of search warrants approved by law enforcement, expressing concerns that the NASA managers whose staff or vendors were the targets would be unhappy. Mr. Cobb reportedly even asked, “Are we going to apologize to them?” In response to questions from investigators, Mr. Cobb confirmed that he would give the NASA Administrator a heads up regarding impending search warrants. There is no way of knowing what impact the disclosure of secret warrants had on investigations.Another problem is that, although IGs are given a wide latitude to staff their offices, Mr. Cobb’s frequent reorganization of the audit section has made his office anything but more productive. Since he took office, the number of audit reports has plummeted from an average of 51 reports annually to only 26 annually. While quantity does not equal quality, a nearly 50% reduction in the number of reports means many topics are not receiving the attention they would have in the past. One possible reason for this drop is that Mr. Cobb disbanded the IG’s safety audit team in the fall of 2005 – only two years after the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy. The PCIE report indicates that Mr. Cobb made it clear to his staff that he did not believe they had the technical know-how to challenge NASA’s engineers, despite the fact that engineers were members of his staff. Given that the Columbia Accident Board concluded that NASA’s safety culture has eroded, there may be no more important task for NASA’s IG than safety audits to prevent future tragedies.A final example of Mr. Cobb’s inability to protect the NASA IG Office from the appearance of a lack of independence is the infamous all-hands meeting held by Administrator Griffin. At this meeting, Administrator Griffin spoke to IG employees, with Mr. Cobb present, and allegedly rebutted the findings of the PCIE report – findings based on the allegations made by numerous IG employees. NASA Assistant IG for Investigations Evelyn Klemstine testified before the House Science Committee that Administrator Griffin’s inappropriate directions to the IG staff regarding the types of investigations and audits they should be performing was in no way protested by Mr. Cobb. Administrator Griffin allegedly went on to inform the IG staff that they shouldn’t bother with work that involved less than $1 billion in NASA funds – an extraordinary threshold under any circumstances. Not only should the head of an agency play no role in determining the work scope of the IG, but the fact that the IG himself did nothing to stop him is further evidence that Mr. Cobb clearly does not understand what it means to be an IG – independence and the appearance of independence are everything. I can only imagine the impact on the morale on the IG staff, and in particular on those whistleblowers who were sitting in the room.
With this atmosphere, you can imagine the reception NASA whistleblowers meet when they go to the IG for help. One whistleblower, a NASA research pilot, refused to fly what he believed was an unsafe aircraft, and was then was reassigned and grounded in apparent retaliation. He reported his experience to the IG, only to be met with inaction. Others found the same lack of action, or were simply forwarded without investigation by the IG to the Office of Special Counsel to be sentenced to a bureaucratic black hole. As nearly half of the NASA IG staff left or were removed from the office, some of them came forward to Senator Nelson and the PCIE revealing the deeply troubled inner workings of their office, and alleging that Mr. Cobb was turning a blind eye to their concerns. Senator Nelson should be congratulated for stepping in to assist these insiders.So what should be done? The record reflects Mr. Cobb's overriding sense of loyalty to NASA's image above a sense of duty to the public and Congress. POGO agrees with Chairmen Nelson and Miller, as well as with the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE), that Inspector General Cobb has clearly demonstrated an appearance of a lack of independence from NASA. It is because of this behavior that I believe Mr. Cobb is unable to fulfill his role as an Inspector General.An opportunity will be missed, however, if Congress does not look at this case in the broader context. During the Reagan Administration, a small group of IGs from the PCIE recruited and screened IG nominees. They then supplied lists of candidates from which the White House could select. This peer review was an important way to ensure that unqualified or partisan people were not placed in the role of IG. The Congress should consider recreating that model. Ultimately, however, it is essential that the Congress play a more active role in overseeing the IGs.POGO is beginning an investigation into the IG system to determine if there are other ways to ensure those important offices can meet their mission. We look forward to providing you with our findings when our investigation is completed.
 One of the cases Mr. Cobb disputes involves the hacking of sensitive computer data regarding NASA rocket engines, know as the ITAR case. It is worth noting that, whether or not he was required to report to the State Department in the ITAR case, numerous IG staff stated he aggressively undermined the issuance of a report on it. Their impression was that Mr. Cobb did not want to embarrass NASA. As a point of comparison, the Department of Energy’s Inspector General has issued numerous reports about cases similar to the NASA computer hacking case. While it may be appropriate to refer a whistleblower case to the Office of Special Counsel to determine whether a prohibited personnel practice has occurred, it is also necessary for an IG themselves to investigate whether there is a need for corrective action regarding the underlying problem at the agency.
Dr. Paul LightPaulette Goddard Professor of Public ServiceRobert Wagner School of Public Service, New York UniversityAUTHORITIES AND EXPECTATIONS FOR INSPECTORS GENERALTESTIMONY BEFORE THE HOUSE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS AND OVERSIGHT and THE SENATE COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATION SUBCOMMITTEE ON SPACE, AERONAUTICS, AND RELATED SCIENCESPAUL C. LIGHTROBERT F. WAGNER SCHOOL OF PUBLIC SERVICENEW YORK UNIVERSITYJUNE 7, 2006
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this joint hearing on the controversies surrounding the National Space and Aeronautics Administration’s Inspector General (IG), Robert Cobb. I am not an expert on his case, but have studied the IG concept for twenty years, and hope to provide a brief overview of the authorities and expectations embedded in the 1978 Inspector General Act.The current controversy surrounding Robert Cobb stems from authorities and expectations embedded in that act. Passed against nearly uniform executive branch opposition, the bill created Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) in 12 departments and agencies, adding to the two statutory OIGs that already existed—one in Health, Education, and Welfare (about to be divided into the departments of Health and Human Services and Education) and the other in Energy. By 1988, the concept had been expanded to include the rest of the federal government, including 33 small-entities. Subsequent expansions have created either OIGs in 57 federal establishments, some headed by Senate-confirmed IGs and others led by presidentially-appointed IGs.The basic thrust of the IG Act, under which Mr. Cobb serves as a Senate-confirmed appointee, was remarkably simple. On one level, it consolidated what were then dozens of separate, often scattered audit and investigation units into single operations headed by a presidential appointee. On another level, it created new expectations for economy and efficiency in government through the appointment of IGs with impeccable integrity and thoughtful leadership. Being an IG was always to be an exceedingly difficult post, placing the occupant in the sometimes precarious position of speaking truth to power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But given enough resources and integrity, the OIGs were to help rebuild trust in government through their aggressive pursuit of accountability in all corners of their establishment.AuthoritiesCompared to most of the bills that passed in 1978, the Inspector General Act was almost invisible. Reorganizing the varied audit and investigation units into single-headed Offices of Inspector General was hardly the stuff of which major controversies are made. Nor was the IG statute particularly complex—it lays out the responsibilities and authorities of each OIG with clarity.Yet, whatever its legislative history or complexity, there is no question Congress gave the IGs unmistakably broad authorities. Under statute, the IGs to provide direction for conducting audits and investigations both including and relating to the programs and operations of their establishments, they had a long list of ancillary duties: review existing and proposed legislation and regulations for impacts on economy and efficiency, coordinate relationships between the department or agency and other federal agencies, state and local governments, and non-governmental entities, and, most importantly, promote the general economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of their establishments.Broad as this invitation is, what made the IG concept much more significant was the decision to protect those new units through at least three devices.First, even though each IG was to be a presidential appointee and removable without cause, each was to be selected “without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.” Further, each IG, not the President nor the head of the establishment, was to appoint an Assistant IG for Audit and an Assistant IG for Investigations, and each IG was given full authority to undertake whatever audits and investigations he or she each deemed necessary to improve economy and efficiency. There was to be no interference from Congress or the president on the OIG’s workplan or agenda.Second, every IG was to have access to all “information, documents, reports, answers, records, accounts, papers, and other data and documentary evidence” needed for an audit or investigation, the right to request assistance from within the agency and information from across government, the authority to subpoena documents (but not witnesses or testimony), the right to hire and fire staff, and “direct and prompt” access to the secretary or administrator whenever necessary for any purpose. Moreover, neither the head of the establishment nor the second in command was to prevent or prohibit the IG from “initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation, or from issuing any subpoena during the course of any audit or investigation.”Third, every IG was bound by a two-fold, dual-channel reporting requirement. One was a relatively simple semi-annual report to the head of the department or agency. Automatically forwarded unchanged to Congress within 30 days, each report was to include a description of every significant problem, abuse, and deficiency the IG encountered in the previous six months, as well as lists of recommendations and results. The other was a so-called “7 day letter” report to the head of the department or agency to be used only in the event of “particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies.” This much shorter report was also to be transmitted unchanged to Congress, but within 7 days.ExpectationsAs one might expect, Congress did not give these substantial authorities without a strong sense that the IGs would be above reproach in using them. Members of Congress spoke frequently about the need for the highest commitment to faithful execution of the IG mandate, and the hope that presidents would take that faithful execution seriously in the appointment of each IG, whether subject to Senate confirmation or presidential appointment without confirmation.Reading through the record accompanying the act and its twenty-five years of implementation, one can discern at least five qualities that Congress expected the IGs to meet:1. Expertise: Congress clearly expected each IG to have substantial knowledge of auditing and investigations, and made that expectation clear in the demand for significant experience in these areas. Although the list of qualifications allows for the appointment of individuals who clearly share the president’s philosophical agenda, the focus was to be on expertise in actually executing the duties of the office. Simply put, Congress expected the IGs to be experts in their field. For the most part, it is an expectation well met over the years, in part due to consultation with leading IGs on potential replacements. Under no circumstances was the IG post to be a destination for the hard-to-place or under-qualified. Although Congress did not expect the IGs to be rocket scientists, whether literally or figuratively, it did expect the IGs to be above reproach in their ability to direct the high-impact work of their offices.2. Leadership: Despite the substantial authorities for audit and investigation, Congress understood that the OIGs would not be the largest units in their establishments. Therefore, Congress expected that the IG would provide the kind of managerial leadership to generate the highest productivity and esprit de corps from what would, and have been, relatively small units. Under no circumstances would Congress have embraced the appointment of an IG who would undermine the productivity of his or her unit through employee abuse or practices that in any way created a hostile work environment. Members wanted the IGs to strengthen their offices, create healthy working conditions, and build units stronger than the sum of their parts. If the IGs encountered employees who were under-performing, Congress expected the IGs to take direct action to remove them from their posts. But above all, the IGs were to leave their units stronger when they moved on to other assignments. A hostile work environment was not just anathema to effectiveness in the search for improved performance, it would set an example for other units in the establishment. The IG simply cannot create a situation in which his or her employees lost faith in their leadership due to managerial practices that undermine productivity.3. Assertiveness: Congress clearly wanted the IGs to have substantial freedom to follow their instincts in developing an independent audit and investigation agenda. Toward that end, they expected the OIGs to pursue any and every lead they wish, allocate personnel where they felt the greatest returns would be harvested, and be aggressive in tackling problems from the top to the bottom of the establishment. Hence, they gave the IG substantial authority to launch any audit or investigation deemed responsible, and expected the IG to use his or her judgment, and his or her judgment alone, to determine the OIGs agenda.These authorities were to be used to build an agenda that would improve the economy and efficiency of the establishment. Although the IGs must make tough choices about how to deploy their OIG resources, they were to create the broadest impact possible, including programmatic evaluations if necessary. They were not to be mere fraud busters, though attacking fraud, waste, and abuse was to be part of their agenda. They were also to ask tough questions that others could or would not. Under all circumstances, the OIGs were to be a safe harbor for speaking truth to power on the broadest possible agenda. They were not to be lapdogs, but watchdogs.4. Independence: The IGs are not just any presidential appointees. Although they do serve at the pleasure of the president, they are given substantial independence in their work. Congress expected this independence to be guarded aggressively. Under no circumstances was the IG to compromise his or her independence by giving others in the establishment, Congress, or the White House a determining voice in setting the audit and investigation agenda. Thus, Congress expected the IGs and their offices to be astutely independent. Although the OIGs would clearly need the cooperation of the senior leadership of their establishments to implement their recommendations for improvement, they were not to create the appearance or reality that the head of their establishment was somehow altering or setting the course of the OIGs workplan.Although this expectation clearly has costs to the IGs, not the least of which is a degree of isolation from the senior leadership team, most IGs have been able to handle the expectation with ease. This has meant that the IGs must maintain a sense of distance from any hint that the head of the establishment has a direct say in the OIGs workplan—no golf games, intimate lunches, even team-building retreats. And, in the same spirit of independence, the senior leadership team must maintain its distance from the OIG—no all-staff meetings to scold the office, no memoranda outlining what the head of the establishment wants in or out of the workplan, no sense that the OIG is somehow beholden to the head of the establishment or that it will be punished through staff and budget cuts if it adopts a particular audit or investigation strategy.In a very real sense, IGs must isolate themselves from the senior leadership team even as they try to cultivate a working relationship that will allow them access when needed to assure that the senior leadership team follows their recommendations for action. After all, the vast majority of IG recommendations involve administrative, not legislative action. Hence, the job has been described as like straddling a barbed wire fence. But this access cannot be distorted in such a way as to create the appearance that the head of the establishment is somehow “the boss” of the OIG, especially, but not exclusively, in setting the OIGs agenda. That responsibility belongs to the IG, whose ultimate boss is the taxpayer.Presidents can remove IGs without cause, of course, implying that Congress expected them to always remove IGs with cause, including instances when the IG cedes his or her independence to another actor. IGs are free to listen to all opinions regarding their agenda perhaps, but not to create the impression or reality that they are taking direction. To do so would create an impossible dependence and cooptation that would undermine their presence as an independent source of recommendations to Congress and the president. It would also severely compromise the IG’s ability to investigate upward into the executive suite of the establishment.5. Integrity: Congress expected the IGs to be men and women of impeccable integrity and honesty. Along with the exhortation to maintain full independence, Congress hoped that the president would make every effort to find individuals for appointment who could be trusted with the authorities and mandate embedded in statute. Although Congress did not create a special appointment mechanism (such as the one used for the appointment of the Comptroller General) or term of office (such as the fifteen year term also governing the Comptroller General), it merely assumed that presidents would understand that the IGs had to bring both the reputation and substance of integrity to their posts. After all, they would be under constant watch by the establishments they would audit and investigation, and could not tolerate even the hint that they played favorites or curried favor in their work. They had to be more than just experts in auditing and investigation, they had be exemplars in their behavior. Under no circumstances did Congress expect that the IGs could be effective under a cloud of suspicion regarding their integrity.6. Courage: Finally, Congress expected the IGs and their offices to be courageous in their work. The IGs and OIGs were never going to be the most popular employees in their establishment—Congress knew that many in their establishments would oppose them, fear them, and work to undermine them. They also knew that many in their establishments would fashion arguments against OIG findings using every tool at their disposal, sometimes stonewalling the OIG, other times using gossip to undermine the IG as somehow less than effective or independence.Thus, the IGs had to show the courage of their convictions in stating their intention to use their authorities to take any course in meeting their mandate, even if that course led upward to the highest levels of the agencies. Toward this end, the IGs and their offices had to draw a bright line between informing the head of the establishment of their workplan and letting the head of the establishment determine their workplan. Under no circumstances was the IG to create even the slightest appearance that he or she had somehow delegated their authorities upward for any reason.As with so much that occurs in organizations, appearance is often just as important as reality in affecting these kinds of expectations. It may be that an IG can be best friends with the head of the establishment, and still maintain independence, but the appearance is created that the head of the establishment has a special voice in setting the workplan. It may also be that the head of the establishment can have a brass-tacks meeting with the OIG staff to explain what he or she wants in or out of the workplan, and not intimate the office into a cowering compliance, but the appearance is created that the head of the establishment again has a special voice in determining the workplan.In this regard, Congress clearly understood that the IG’s effectiveness would be determined in part by the head of the establishment who could bully, intimate, cajole, and otherwise attempt to influence the IG into following some leads and not others. Congress also understood that some IGs might be tempted by the opportunity to socialize with the head of the establishment as part of the normal give and take of life in a highly stressful environment. But by NOT insulating the appointments process with a special appointment mechanism or term of office, Congress seemed to be saying that such behavior would never occur if the basic qualifications for IG appointment were meant. After all, what kind of auditor or investigator would curry favor or socialize with those who might be committing fraud, waste, and abuse? Not one who would be given the enormous authorities and independence embedded in a statute such as the 1978 Inspector General Act.Later Congresses also understood that the IG’s effectiveness would also depend on the protection of the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget. This individual would act as a buffer during moments of intense conflict between the IG and his or her establishment, assure that appointments were the highest quality, coordinate the IG community, protect budgets and employment, and serve as a “court of last resort” in particularly difficult cases involving questions regarding the competence and behavior of individual IGs. As long as the Deputy Director for Management took these assignments seriously, Congress saw no need for a government-wide inspector general or new appointment mechanism. But, to the extent that the Deputy Director of Management might be conflicted in this role—for example, by playing a significant role in the selection of an IG in a previous post—or ignore the role altogether, Congress may yet have to revisit its earlier decisions.Ultimately, however, the quality of an IG’s work depends on his or her own willingness to stand independent and courageous in the face of inevitable opposition. Each IG must be willing to accept responsibility for her or her behavior, and acknowledge when their independence has been compromised, fairly or unfairly, and exit office gracefully, even if the President of the United States has expressed support. It is up to the IG to be a wise steward of the mandate and office he or she oversees, and a wise steward of the tremendous authority he or she wields. Absent a sense of personal integrity that might eventually lead to his or her resignation, an IG cannot provide the leadership needed to make the IG concept a success. Integrity simply cannot be legislated or demanded through executive order. It must come from the individual IG in those quiet moments of self reflection about duty. That is the ultimate protection of the independence that is so essential for the faithful execution of the 1978 act.
Witness Panel 2
The Honorable Robert W. CobbInspector GeneralOffice of Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration