Every Friday, POGO will strive to make one document available that we or others have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), especially documents that have not previously been posted online. Some of these documents will be more important than others, some may only be of historical interest— although relevance is in the eye of the beholder. POGO is doing this to highlight the importance of open government and FOIA throughout the year.
By JAKE WIENS
Document agency: Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, on behalf of the Integrity Committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE).
Document number: IC 500
Document date: August 20, 2006
In a nutshell: The controversial tenure of Robert “Moose” Cobb, the former Inspector General (IG) at NASA, ended in 2009 amidst serious pressure from Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). The Senators cited “his ‘ineffective audit record, stalled investigations, whistleblower retaliation, and improper social relationships with the NASA officials whose work he was tasked with overseeing,’” as justification for their commitment to having him removed.
But the controversy surrounding Cobb’s stint as NASA IG started far earlier than 2009. In late 2006, the Orlando Sentinel obtained a summary of an official investigation into dozens of allegations against Cobb. The investigation, which POGO referred to as “devastating” at the time, was conducted by the HUD IG on behalf of the Integrity Committee of the PCIE, the body responsible for reviewing allegations of impropriety by IGs.
The summary included the major findings from the investigation, a few of which are below:
- “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. An audit safety team was abolished. Investigations were derailed, witnesses said, including some related to safety and national security.”
- “Investigators found that Cobb lunched, drank, played golf and traveled with former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, another White House appointee. E-mails from Cobb showed he frequently consulted with top NASA officials on investigations, raising questions about his independence. ...HUD investigators heard testimony from other witnesses that suggested O'Keefe's and Cobb's association went beyond the traditional arm's-length relationship between agency heads and inspectors general. E-mail traffic between Cobb, O'Keefe and former NASA General Counsel Paul Pastorek indicated Cobb consulted with them on audits and investigations.”
- “Witnesses told investigators Cobb also intimidated and berated some subordinates to the point of tears. During his tenure as NASA inspector general, the department's employee attrition rate has increased by more than 50 percent, according to figures in the report.”
- “In another case, investigators found an e-mail that Cobb sent to O'Keefe informing him of an undercover operation and the pending execution of search warrants.”
POGO obtained the previously non-public full Report of Investigation (ROI) through a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act. The 309-page report fills in many important details involving the allegations against Cobb.
While most of the allegations against Cobb were pretty serious, some are also quite comical. For example, the ROI recounts an interview between investigators and Cobb concerning an allegation that at “an OIG All-Hands Conference in New Orleans in May 2004, Inspector General COBB wore a shirt that said ‘F[*%$] You, You F[*%$]ing F[*%$].’” [Editor’s note: actual shirt slogan has been censored here.]
Q. At the conference held in New Orleans, did you ever buy or wear a T--shirt that had the words “FU” on it?
A. I certainly bought a T-shirt. Whether I put it on or held it up, I don't know
Q. To your staff?
A. I went into a shop to buy the T-shirt as a practical joke. I was -- in connection with a buddy of mine unrelated to work. In fact, on the way to purchasing it, a staff member came alongside me and we walked into the T-shirt shop, I bought the T-shirt, walked out. There were other staff members. Whether I did it on my own initiative or the staff member said show them the T--shirt, whatever, I showed them the T-shirt.
Q. What exactly did it say on it?
A. It said it said FU you F-ing F.
Q. Was that spelled out?
Q. So in place of F, the entire word...was spelled out?
Commentary: Cobb lasted nearly three years as NASA IG following the completion of the “devastating” Report of Investigation. Cobb’s ability to remain as IG for so long despite official evidence of impropriety exposed systemic weaknesses in the mechanisms in place to hold IGs accountable for wrongdoing. The weaknesses, which are discussed in detail in POGO’s report, Inspectors General: Accountability is A Balancing Act, remain to this day.
Jake Wiens is a POGO Investigator.