WASHINGTON -U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has called for NASA's top attorney to resignover his decision to destroy recordings of an April 10 video teleconferenceNASA Administrator Mike Griffin used to address the 200-person staff of theU.S. space agency's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
In astatement, Griffin called NASA General Counsel Mike Wholley's decision to destroythe recordings a "mistake", but said Wholley still has his "fullconfidence."
"Weregret the controversy surrounding the recording of my meeting with theInspector General's staff. In retrospect, it was a mistake to destroy therecordings once they had been made," Griffin said in a statement issued inresponse to Nelson's May 1 call for Wholley's ouster.
Nelson alsorenewed his call forthe White House to dismiss NASA Inspector Robert Cobb, saying thatWholley's actions again call into question Cobb's independence from senior NASAleadership.
"Evenif Wholley's motives were innocuous, his actions create serious appearanceproblems for the agency and distract from our common goal of building supportfor NASA's mission," Nelson said in his May 1 letter to Griffin.
Concernsabout Griffin's April 10 meeting with OIG staff and NASA's subsequent handlingof recordings, which agency officials said were not supposed to made in thefirst place, were first raised by Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the chairman ofthe House Science & Technology investigations and oversight committee.
Millerwrote Griffin April 25 demanding an explanation of the agency's actions.Wholley and other NASA officials went to Congress April 27 to discuss thematter.
Accordingto Nelson's May 1 letter, Wholley acknowledged during the April 27 meeting thathe personally destroyed the recordings after determining they did notconstitute official records under the Federal Records Act. "His statedreason for destroying the records," according to Nelson, "was that hedid not want them available to the public under a Freedom of Information Actrequest. He further stated that the recordings were not evidence of anythingimproper, but rather would have demonstrated that your contact with the staffof the OIG was entirely appropriate."
Nelson alsotold Griffin he was troubled by NASA's decision to second guess the findings ofa White House committee that concluded Cobb had been abusive to staff and tooclose to senior NASA leadership to be an effective watchdog. After performinghis own evaluation of the allegations and evidence against Cobb, Wholleyconcluded that Cobb had done
"Thereis nothing in the Integrity Committee's procedures or the governing executiveorder providing for a separate evaluation of the Integrity Committee's findingsby the agency," Nelson said. "To do so vitiates the work of theIntegrity Committee, which had expended time and resources independentlyinvestigating the allegations, weighing the evidence, and issuing theirfindings. Wholley's actions raised the issue of conflict of interest, both forthe reasons cited above, and by his office being named in some of theallegations against Mr. Cobb."
"My concernsabout the effectiveness of the NASA Inspector General and his relationship withsenior NASA management are growing, and I am increasingly convinced that thissituation is an unnecessary distraction from NASA's real challenges,"Nelson continued. "It is apparent to me that there is either a lack ofunderstanding or appreciation at NASA for the role of an independent inspectorgeneral."
Griffin, inhis statement, stood by his recommendationto keep Cobb on as inspector general.
"TheIntegrity Committee report was analyzed by an independent career civil servantin the NASA Genera Counsel's office, and I reviewed that analysis as well asthe Integrity Committee's report," Griffin said. "I believe myproposed actions were appropriate based on my own review."