NOVEMBER 20, 2006
The inspector general of a major federal agency stifled investigations through the years and maintained unethical personal relationships with the top officials at the agency he was appointed to independently regulate.
Appointed by President George W. Bush to monitor the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Robert Cobb was instead covering up the wrongdoing of his high-ranking friends at the agency, which include the theft of nearly $2 billion worth of sensitive data that could seriously threaten national security.
The problems were so widespread at the NASA Inspector General’s office that another federal agency was called in to investigate the situation and a Florida newspaper obtained a confidential summary of the scathing 10-month probe which examined 69 allegations against Cobb, a former White House ethics lawyer.
The report revealed that the number of audits issued by Cobb’s office dropped drastically from 62 in 2000 to seven during the first half of 2006 and that an audit safety team was abolished. That led to the derailment of important investigations, including many that involved national security. Additionally, Cobb regularly played golf, drank and had lunch with the director of NASA, whom he was supposed to objectively monitor.
Inspector generals are supposed to be independent because their job is to investigate and expose wrongdoing. In fact, the law that created federal inspector generals (Inspector General Act of 1978) specifically says that the position should be independent and objective in order to promote economy, efficiency and effectiveness and to prevent and detect fraud and abuse. Sixty two federal agencies have inspector generals and NASA’s is one of 30 nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Cobb, ironically a member of the president’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, was named NASA Inspector General in mid 2002. Before that he worked for almost nine years at the United States Office of Government Ethics, an agency within the executive branch that fosters high ethical standards and helps prevent conflicts of interest on the part of government employees.
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