NASA IG Blames Confusion, Lax Implementation at NASA for Bo Jiang Episode

NASA IG Blames Confusion, Lax Implementation at NASA for Bo Jiang Episode

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued its long awaited report today on whether NASA or one of its contractors, the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), allowed inappropriate access to government information and facilities to Bo Jiang, a Chinese national.  Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) railed against NASA when the case came to light earlier this year, engendering widespread media attention.

The OIG’s comprehensive review of how Jiang came to work at NASA’s Langley Research Center as an NIA contractor and the complicated process for approval of visits by foreign nationals at NASA and its field centers is a real page-turner for anyone interested in the details of this convoluted episode.  

The report focuses on NASA’s processes, not whether Jiang did anything wrong.   Jiang was arrested at Dulles Airport in March 2013 as he was returning to China for lying to federal agents because he allegedly did not disclose all of the electronic equipment he had in his possession.  Today’s OIG report says that six weeks later Jiang pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of using a NASA computer to download copyrighted material, but not to lying to federal agents or possessing sensitive NASA information.   The report adds, however, that after the court proceeding, Jiang admitted that the laptop contained “some NASA information” and “the nature of the information on Jiang’s computer and how he obtained it remains under investigation.”

The upshot of the OIG review appears to be a classic case of an intensely bureaucratic process involving a multitude of individuals and offices at NASA Langley, NASA Headquarters and NIA that did not communicate effectively with each other or with Jiang or his sponsors at the Center regarding restrictions that had been placed on his activities there.   Jiang himself apparently was not told.  

Jiang initially received approval to work as an NIA contractor at Langley from January 2011 to September 2012, and that was later extended to February 2013.  He worked primarily at NIA’s facilities off the Center’s premises.   It was only last fall when Jiang’s supervisor at Langley requested that Jiang be allowed to work from an office inside the center that another review was triggered and an “export control professional who was not involved with the earlier requests” became troubled for a number of reasons.  One was whether the NASA contract with NIA for Jiang’s services violated a congressional prohibition on spending appropriated funds on bilateral space cooperation activities with China.  That prohibition was added to NASA’s appropriation bill by Wolf, who chairs the House subcommittee that funds NASA.

NIA terminated Jiang’s employment in January 2013.  Later that month, Langley information technology security personnel issued a report saying they found no evidence Jiang’s laptop computer contained any export-controlled information, but in March, Langley’s Security Service Branch issued a report calling into question just about every decision that NASA personnel had made for the prior two years that allowed Jiang to work as a contractor.

The OIG report offers six recommendations on how to improve the process.  As to whether hiring Jiang as a consultant violated Wolf’s prohibition, however, the OIG concludes it did not.  “While the provision prohibits the Agency from hosting official Chinese visitors and expending funds to execute bilateral agreements with the Chinese government or Chinese companies, it does not extend to work conducted by individual Chinese citizens like Jiang who are not official representatives of the Chinese government or affiliated with a Chinese company.”

Indeed, Wolf himself made that point two weeks ago in a strongly worded letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden criticizing NASA’s Ames Research Center for denying Chinese scientists permission to attend a scientific conference on findings from the Kepler Space Telescope that will be held at Ames next month.  Bolden replied on October 10, during the government shutdown, saying he would review the requests from the Chinese scientists and invite them to reapply once the government reopened.

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