Following up on two earlier posts, today’s WaPo has an extended hit piece on NASA Inspector General Robert W. Cobb. The general theme should sound familiar to administration-watchers out there: inappropriately-appointed unqualified supervisors, waste, fraud and a hostile environment that drives the career professionals out the door. Let’s tick off the familiar aspects of a recurring pattern over the last few years.
First, there’s the refusal or inability of appointed officials charged with oversight to simply do their job.
Written complaints and supporting documents from at least 16 people have been given to investigators. They allege that Cobb, appointed by President Bush in 2002, suppressed investigations of wrongdoing within NASA, and abused and penalized his own investigators when they persisted in raising concerns.
Next, the general problem of filling demanding posts with unqualified hacks:
Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, the president appoints independent officials to monitor Cabinet departments and larger federal agencies through audits and investigations. Cobb is among four of 11 inspectors general appointed by Bush who previously worked in the White House, and one of nine with no audit experience.
Yep, Cobbie, you’re doing a heck of a job.
The inevitable friction when oversight may result in making the management look bad:
Many described Cobb as abusive to subordinates and dismissive of their abilities. “He would cut people off, get up and leave during meetings,” said Dan Samoviski, who retired in 2004 as deputy IG director for audits at NASA headquarters. “Personally, I just think he created a hostile work environment.”
Dennis Coldren, the retired manager of space station and space shuttle audits, was one of several who described Cobb as a “bully,” and several sources also said they believed Cobb was too friendly with then-NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. They said Cobb suppressed audits, stopped investigations and otherwise edited IG activities to avoid embarrassing the agency or its leadership.
The fiscal mismanagement:
In another complaint filed with the Integrity Committee, IG auditor Carroll Tom Hassell described how “a person in a South American country” over three days in late 2002 logged into the Marshall Space Flight Center’s supposedly secure computer system, stole space shuttle data valued at $1.9 billion and shipped it to a third country. The complaint said Cobb’s office refused to report the theft to the Commerce Department as an illegal transfer of intellectual property.
Steve Benen observes that as long as Congress refuses to fill its role in government oversight, the Inspectors General have become the only remaining oversight body. It may seem like an unhappy coincidence that a catastrophically incompetent government happens to have a Congress that won’t investigate and Inspectors who won’t inspect, but it’s not. It’s a prerequisite. Josh Marshall recently pointed out that just like sunlight is often the best disinfectant, rot flourishes in the dark:
The president’s critics are always accusing him of law-breaking or unconstitutional acts and then also berating the incompetence of his governance. And it’s often treated as, well … he’s power-hungry and incompetent to boot! Imagine that! The point though is that they are directly connected. Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It’s a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power. Katrina was a good example of this.
Amen. Proper oversight at every level will go a long way towards giving us a government capable of actually governing.