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NASA OIG Slams PAO Over Hansen Affair

By Keith Cowing
June 2, 2008

Investigative Summary Regarding Allegations that NASA Suppressed Climate Change Science and Denied Media Access to Dr. James E. Hansen, A NASA Scientist

“Regardless of the aforementioned Space Act standards, we otherwise found that the Agency mismanaged this activity insomuch as it occurred over a sustained period of time until senior management was eventually alerted by congressional staff and the media. That senior management did not know before then was emblematic of ineffective internal management controls such as a dispute resolution mechanism between contributing scientists and public affairs officials. This is especially true in that relations between NASA’s climate change science community and the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs had somehow deteriorated into acrimony, non-transparency, and fear that science was being politicized–attributes that are wholly inconsistent with effective and efficient Government. The investigation also uncovered that one of the underlying contributing factors of these problems may have, in fact, been in the very structure of the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs, where political appointees were placed in the seemingly contradictory position of ensuring the “widest practicable” dissemination of NASA research results that were arguably inconsistent with the Administration’s policies, such as the “Vision for Space Exploration.”

Excerpts below

Page 18

In our October 22, 2007, interview with Mr. Mould, the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs during part of our investigation, Mr. Mould stated that NASA’s media policies at the time were a “jumble of mish-mash,” adding that he never read them.

Page 20

Interviews of Public Affairs Officers and scientists disclosed a common belief that there were no clear written policies regarding media contacts or news releases. They stated that policy guidance issued by Headquarters Office of Public Affairs’ staff was verbal and erratic and often led to inconsistent policy administration by the NASA Field Centers.

Page 37-38

On December 20, 2005, the Chief of the Goddard Space Flight Center Office of Public Affairs sent an e-mail to Messrs. Acosta and Mould memorializing the directions given during the teleconference in an attempt to get written confirmation of these directives. Neither Mr. Acosta nor Mr. Mould replied to the e-mail. Both later claimed to NASA leadership and congressional staff that they never received it. Congressional staff informed our investigators that Messrs. Mould and Acosta denied that the contents of the e-mail accurately reflected what was discussed and that the teleconference with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Public Affairs Coordinator was not an initiation of a monitoring effort but was only a reiteration of the “heads-up” policy already in place. In contradiction to this denial, the three Headquarters Office of Public Affairs officials who were party to the December 15, 2005, teleconference all concurred that the contents of the e-mail message both accurately summarized the directions given during the teleconference and the way that the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs worked. Mr. Mould suggested to the Congressional staff that the e-mail was never sent and must have been retyped because it did not look like a NASA e-mail.

Our investigation confirmed that that e-mail from the Chief of the Goddard Space Flight Center Office of Public Affairs was, in fact, drafted, sent, and received by others who were on the same distribution list as Messrs. Acosta and Mould. Further, a forensic examination of electronic data obtained from Mr. Acosta’s NASA-issued computer revealed that the e-mail had been successfully delivered to Mr. Acosta’s e-mail address and it had been saved to his hard drive as a normal function of e-mail retrieval from the server. The examination of available data further showed that he (or someone operating his equipment) had received and reviewed the e-mail on his Blackberry device, and then forwarded it to another Headquarters Office of Public Affairs staff member for advice, who, in turn, responded to him via e-mail correspondence.

The examination of electronic data obtained from Mr. Mould’s NASA-issued computers, however, was inconclusive. Due to the short retention schedule for information on the NASA electronic mail servers, evidence of the mail being delivered to Mr. Mould could not be shown forensically through a review of the information on the servers at the time that the information was obtained.45 We believe, however, based on the totality of the evidence, that the most likely scenario was that the e-mail was successfully delivered to Mr. Mould’s e-mail account given that it was properly addressed to him and that every other addressee on the e-mail (either as a “to” or “cc”) received it.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.