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NASA's embattled inspector general steps down

NASA inspector general Robert "Moose" Cobb submitted a letter of resignation yesterday, giving up his post effective April 11. President Barack Obama has accepted Cobb's resignation, according to the space agency, ending his nearly seven-year run as NASA's top watchdog.

Cobb had endured criticism of his performance for years. In 2007 a panel created by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, investigating dozens of complaints over the preceding years, concluded that Cobb had abused his authority, creating a hostile workplace peppered with aggressive outbursts and profanity. (The committee report, available here as a pdf, makes for great reading—one witness cited in the document said that Cobb was fond of referring to his staff as "f—sticks.") The panel also found that Cobb had grown too close to the agency personnel he was supposed to be auditing for waste and fraud. For instance, the inspector general lunched often with NASA brass, golfed with the agency's then chief Sean O'Keefe twice, and once tipped O'Keefe off that search warrants in "a significant criminal investigation" were about to be issued.

In a December report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm, found that Cobb had managed to save NASA only 36 cents for every dollar budgeted to his office. The average return for the 30 such watchdogs across all federal agencies was $9.49—more than 26 times the figure attained at NASA.

In March, a bipartisan trio of senators (Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa) called for Cobb's ouster, asking Obama to "take immediate action to put an end to conflict of interest and cronyism ... by replacing Mr. Cobb and nominating a qualified candidate." That request followed a similar letter sent to the president a month earlier by two Democratic congressmen, one of whom, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, yesterday called Cobb's resignation "a good first step."

Photo of Robert Cobb courtesy of NASA

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