Senator Rockefeller Expresses Concern About NASA

Senator Rockefeller Expresses Concern About NASA

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, opened a nomination hearing yesterday by saying that NASA “is trailed around with a bit of public skepticism … particularly in the question of fiscal responsibility and accountability….” He added “NASA has gone without an effective Inspector General for too long…. I think there is a lot of waste, fraud and abuse at NASA.”

The hearing included the nominations for Beth Robinson to be NASA’s Chief Financial Officer and Paul Martin to be NASA’s Inspector General. The Senate Commerce committee oversees NASA and authorizes NASA activities. The Senator’s comments come at minute 32:50 on the webcast, available on the committee’s website. His written statement is also available there.

Senator Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the committee, disagreed, saying that she does not think people are skeptical about NASA (36:45). She said that NASA’s operations are very constrained by a limited budget. Senator Hutchison is one of NASA’s strongest supporters in the Senate, but has announced her plans to resign from the Senate soon to run for Governor of Texas.

During Q&A later in the hearing (94:36), Senator Rockefeller pointed out that it is not just that NASA cannot pass a financial audit, but cannot even prepare its financial records to allow its independent auditor, Ernst & Young, to do its job. He asked Dr. Robinson how she would fix that. She said that discovering the root causes and putting in place mechanisms that lead to success are her top priorities. Still later (121:15), he cited the waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare and wondered about how much there is at NASA that could be recovered and used for activities NASA wants to pursue. He quoted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as saying that NASA’s IG office recovers less than 40 cents for every budget dollar it receives, well below the average of $9 that other agency IG’s recover. Martin said he would assess the auditors and investigators in the NASA IG office and reprioritize and reposition people if needed to go after important issues and high dollar issues. In wrapping up the hearing, the Senator referred to “constituencies in the world of NASA” who are “very ambitious” and that he goes “blooey” hearing about plans to “pay $1 million and travel to the Moon” and doesn’t know how to react. (127:15).

Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) — appointed by Florida Governor Crist last month to replace Mel Martinez, who resigned after serving four years of his six year term — also expressed concern about “irregularities” at NASA and emphasized the need to “get 100 cents worth of every dollar” spent at the agency. (102:50) Senator LeMieux is Governor Crist’s former chief of staff and is not expected to run for the Senate seat; Governor Crist is running for that position.

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