Report: NASA inspector general not catching enough

Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:08 p.m.

WASHINGTON Congressional auditors say that NASA's in-house financial watchdog is doing little to unearth waste and abuse at the space agency.

The Government Accountability Office compared NASA's inspector general to 27 other federal agencies and found it next to last, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. NASA's financial watchdog saved taxpayers only 36 cents for every dollar spent, the new report says. The average for federal inspectors general was $9.49.

The GAO determined that NASA's inspector general didn't plan enough financial audits and didn't seem independent enough from the space agency. In response, the NASA inspector general said the GAO misrepresented the NASA audits and called the report flawed.

Inspectors general are independent watchdogs assigned to major government agencies and appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. They are supposed to look for fraud, waste and abuse and make recommendations on how to save money. The Government Accountability Office is the auditing arm that investigates agencies at the request of Congress.

NASA's inspector general spends an overwhelming amount of effort on investigations that aren't aimed at saving money, the report found. Yet NASA is an agency with a history of cost overruns last month the agency said a major Mars mission was going to cost $400 million more than budget and the NASA chief acknowledged his office had a problem with calculating cost.

NASA's inspector general, Robert "Moose" Cobb, "has generally not focused on audits with recommendations for improving the economy and efficiency of NASA's programs ... with potential monetary savings," the 77-page report found.

Out of more than a 150 investigations in 2006 and 2007, only NASA inspector general audit made recommendations for taxpayers' money, the report found.

Two years ago, the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency issued a report saying that Cobb abused his authority and didn't appear independent enough from the agency he was investigating. One case involved whether to make public the theft of a ring from the remains of the space shuttle Columbia. Congressional leaders, who said Cobb was too subservient to the NASA administrator, had called for his resignation, which went unheeded.

Renee Juhans, spokeswoman for the NASA inspector general office, said she could not comment until she has seen the final report.

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