Bolden cleared of ethics law violations

Back in June the Orlando Sentinel reported that NASA administrator Charles Bolden was being investigated by NASA’s inspector general for a potential ethics breach: he contacted an executive of Marathon Oil, a company where Bolden previously served as a director and still owned stock in, to get an opinion about a NASA biofuels program called OMEGA. At the time NASA was considering signing an memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Navy to continue work on the project and Bolden, apparently, wanted another opinion of the effort.

This morning the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued its final report into the investigation, clearing Bolden of any violations of law but concluding that his actions were inconsistent with the ethics pledge he (and other administration officials) signed:

In sum, we found no evidence that Bolden or Marathon received a present or promised financial benefit as a result of Bolden’s call. We also found that the information Bolden received from Marathon did not cause him to withhold funding to the OMEGA project or to direct that the proposed MOU with the Navy be abandoned.

We concluded that Bolden’s contact with Marathon regarding OMEGA did not violate federal laws or regulations pertaining to conflicts of interest. However, we found that the contact was not consistent with the Ethics Pledge he, as an Administration appointee, had signed, and that it raised concerns about an appearance of a conflict of interest involving the NASA Administrator and a large oil company to which he had financial ties.

When interviewed by the OIG about this matter, Bolden readily acknowledged that he had erred in contacting Marathon. Bolden said he has since recused himself from issues involving OMEGA and has received supplemental training regarding his ethical responsibilities.

44 comments to Bolden cleared of ethics law violations

  • Vladislaw

    I just finished reading the OIG report and found this bit interesting:

    “The following day Worden sent an e-mail to Garver referencing Bolden’s May 2 e-mail.

    Jonathan [Trent] tells me he talked to some guy from Marathon Oil a year ago on the phone and that was it. In the interest of open government and transparency I think my folks are entitled to know who talked to Charlie and the basis of their criticism so we can respond. This is frankly the worst of NASA and I don’t like it. It is “good ole boy” networks at it’s [sic] worst and not worthy of NASA and this Administration. Anything I can do about it? It seems to be happening a lot. Charlie talks to “someone” he knows – often an astronaut. We get “convicted” without knowing the evidence, the accuser or with any due process.
    I know you are frustrated too. But this is the “Never the Straight Answer” NASA we came to fix. At least Griffin allowed us a day in court with an open discussion of the technical facts and conflicts of interest out on the table

    In the meantime, we are lining up the technical counters. But to do a professional job I need to know the “facts” being used against us.”

    NASA = Never A Straight Answer

    And the ‘good ole boy’ network .. gosh who would have thought….

  • Mark R. Whittington

    “At least Griffin allowed us a day in court with an open discussion of the technical facts and conflicts of interest out on the table.”

    Is it time to put up pictures of Mike Griffin with the caption “Miss Me Yet?”

  • John Malkin

    No, I would rather have Sean O’Keefe. He had a nice reassuring voice and I think he is one of the luckiest men on earth. Mike Griffin’s voice was kinda nasally.

  • John Malkin

    I agree and I would also like to add that he admits when he makes a mistake and takes measures to correct it.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Don’t you wish a Senate Ethics Committee would look into the conflicts of interests of Nelson, Shelby, Hutchison etc?

  • A-stream

    I took it for granted that this was the accepted way of doing business within NASA, certainly at the lower echelons of management. I didn’t realize this was something that people were suggesting needed to change or be stopped.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ September 20th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    only in the goofy world of someone who misses Bush the last …

    Robert G. Oler

  • *Yawn*

    Nothing to see here, just move along.

    Bolden was hired to take the bullets like the good Marine he is.

    He’s done his job well.

  • Justin Kugler

    I think Pete Worden would make a great Administrator. I don’t think he’d take the job, though. :)

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    Onya Dad, distraction from the main issue and that is no funding bill in sight for NASA.

  • googaw

    The parasites seem to be at loggerheads over the carcass of premature HSF. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Justin Kugler wrote @ September 20th, 2010 at 9:57 pm


    to my mind what is impressive is that Charlie took the job….although “space” (well NASA space) was a seriously trivial part of the 08 campaign; anyone who was remotely interested in space policy and was in the real world (not some fantasy setup) could see that the trains were running out of money to keep them going…and there was no more money.

    to paraphrase one of the few good lines from Trek the Next…”when did the citizens of Rome figure out that the Empire was over?”

    Whoever took the NASA job was in for a tough sled. The Cx program had simply spun out of control, there was/is declining support in The Republic for any kind of human exploration of space; much less that which constantly needs more money and is decades away…the shuttle program is ending…

    you kind of wonder the reflections of the people in first class who figured out “The Titanic is sinking”…and yet no one from NASA management (least of all Mike Griffin) could face the reality of what was happening.

    And whoever became NASA administrator was going to have to shove reality right in the face of almost everyone.

    Napoleon having been crushed at Moscow wondered why he “should lead a retreat” and took of for home…Charlie has taken the deck at the moment when NASA HSF has finally come to the crash it has avoided for decades.

    Not a pretty time.

    Robert G. Oler

  • This is what happens when you try to trim the fat at NASA. Whenever you hear anyone say “why is NASA funding that? What’s it got to do with space or even aeronautics?” remember this incident.

  • Trent Waddington wrote @ September 21st, 2010 at 1:27 am

    This is what happens when you try to trim the fat at NASA.

    The definition of an inoperable tumor is that you cannot remove it surgically without killing the patient.

    In my opinion,

    The Senate Authorization bill is an attempt at chemotherapy;

    Obama’s FY2011 budget reflects a surgeon’s mentality, “Cut it out!” (and if the patient dies, so be it).

    While the House bill is, “Tumor, what tumor? Gimme another cigarette!”

    = = =

    The real bottom line? NASA needs a competitor. NASA and the US Congress will not provide humanity a spacefaring future regardless of the options chosen by Congress.

    Again, solely IMHO.

  • If I read googaw correctly, he favors the Obama FY2011 as originally presented because he believes it will help kill the patient, that being our “premature” dream of significant cost-justified human spaceflight.

    If I do not read googaw correctly, surely he will tell me. ;-)

  • amightywind

    Nothing new. Biofuels and wind power have been the democrat’s favorite racket for 10 years. Get them subsides and skim off the top. The fuel in your gas tank is inferior by design.

    Bolden and Garver need to make room for a more traditional administrator, preferably and engineer from the inside. But let it be anyone who will actually promote HSF and NASA’s crucial leading role in it, and not actively subvert it like this crew.

  • Justin Kugler

    We do not need an engineer in the position of NASA Administrator. James Webb was beloved because he bridged the policy and technical worlds and got his people what they needed, not because he was a brilliant engineer. That is what we need again and that is where Griffin fell short.

  • MrEarl

    Justin is absolutely right. It’s Griffin’s arrogance as an engineer that set the stage for the mess that we’re in today!
    When Griffin was first mentioned to be the possible choice for NASA Administrator in 2005 I was very vocal than that NASA had plenty of engineers but needed an Administrator like Webb who could get the job done in Washington.
    O’Keefe was very effective at that after the mess that Dan Goulden left NASA in with his “Better, Faster, Cheaper” BS. I’m sure that if O’Keefe had remained the Administrator we would be no more than 2 to 3 years away from being able to launch astronauts into LEO on our own capsules.

  • amightywind

    Justin Kugler wrote @ September 21st, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    That is what we need again and that is where Griffin fell short.

    Like President Bush, Mike Griffin is long gone. No NASA Administrator has had the job twice. Why you leftists waste time kicking a dead horse, I’ll never know. The ‘existing’ leadership has sent NASA into chaos. $ billions wasted, not to mention time. The question is, to what fate do we put these clowns, and who comes after?

  • No NASA Administrator has had the job twice.

    Except Jim Fletcher.



    Justin Kugler wrote @ September 21st, 2010 at 3:15 pm <- That's because Webb was a savvy bureaucrat and Griffin is not. Webb could have run pretty much any government agency in his time. Griffin is not in his class.


    <- This writer has had family employed at the highest executive levels of Marathon in years past. At its core, it is a regional oil firm with significant partnership holdings in major petroleum operations around the world. Neil Armstrong once held a seat on its BoD. Bolden's motivation, though understandable, appear to be an exercise in adverse judgment rather than a lapse in ethics.


    “MrEarl wrote @ September 21st, 2010 at 3:37 pm
    Justin is absolutely right. It’s Griffin’s arrogance as an engineer that set the stage for the mess that we’re in today!” <- Correct. His mission now is to defend 'his' lousy rocket and try to salvage his reputation. When Griffin chided Garver some years back as 'not being qualified' to pass judgment on 'his' rocket, that said it all. The bad blood remains.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ September 21st, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    The ‘existing’ leadership has sent NASA into chaos. $ billions wasted, not to mention time.

    As usual, you have that backward.

    Griffin wasted $ Billions on Constellation, as well as delayed meaningful HSF for many years. The current administration is stopping the $ hemorrhaging, and trying to put us on a path towards sustainable HSF.

    Pork politics is delaying the administrations plans, but if the Senate bill is passed, many will have survived, including the key ones like killing Constellation and starting Commercial Crew.

  • Justin Kugler

    It was you who said we needed an engineer from inside NASA at the helm. I was simply pointing out that we already tried that with Griffin and ended up with particularly mixed results. Given that Griffin actively lobbied to keep his job and has remained in the public eye for the express purpose of advocating the continuation of his plan, I’d say he is still relevant to mention. At least President Bush had the sense and decency to retire quietly to private life.

    I see you’re the type that labels anyone who disagrees with you as a “leftist.” Speaking as someone who comes from Objectivist roots, I can’t help but be amused.

    I think Earl is probably very right. If O’Keefe had stayed on, we would likely be close to launching Orion on existing boosters, because he would have followed the recommendations of the Aldridge Commission.

  • Vladislaw

    “Nothing new. Biofuels and wind power have been the democrat’s favorite racket for 10 years”

    Actually it goes back to Jimmy Carter during the oil embargo in the mid 70’s, he put solar panels on the whilte house and Reagan had them torn down, they reagan said we have to have a new energy policy… lol


    Justin Kugler wrote @ September 21st, 2010 at 4:41 pm <- My God, the last thing NASA needs is an 'engineer' at the helm. The job of an 'administrator' is to 'administrate' — not 'engineer.' An individual wearing their manager's hat, capable of interacting and motivating engineers, whether they're one themselves or not, to implement policy directives from the WH is what's needed.

  • mr. mark

    amightwind suggested we need a engineer back at the helm… May I suggest Elon Musk LOL

  • googaw

    If I read googaw correctly, he favors the Obama FY2011 as originally presented because he believes it will help kill the patient, that being our “premature” dream of significant cost-justified human spaceflight.

    If I do not read googaw correctly, surely he will tell me. :-)

    Thank you first of all for the caveat. There is little that sucks more than people putting words in my mouth, which usually in these parts say something radically different from what I actually said.

    What I in fact favor is Martijn’s proposed $4-$5 billion cut to NASA, which I’d cut mostly out of the Exploration DIrectorate.

    BTW MM here are more specifics and I’d love to compare how they compare to your ideas. I’d cut the following in order of heavier and higher priority cuts to lesser and lower priority cuts:

    (1) HLV, Constellation, Ares, additional Shuttle flights, and all relatives of same should be canceled.

    (2) “Commercial” Crew should be eliminated — for the last years of premature HSF the Soyuz is quite sufficient. If the HSF cultists are right about orbital tourism HSF won’t go dormant, but I labor under no such illusions.

    (3) ISS — the operational spending on this by the U.S. should be greatly reduced consistent with keeping it in orbit. The U.S. need only fly 2-3 astronauts per year, missions of durations of 1 year or more to test asteroid and Mars mission durations. The ISS will be the last chance for at least a couple decades for astronaut fans get to experiment with their heavenly pilgrims, so choose your experiments wisely.

    (4) Similarly “commercial” cargo to ISS should be scaled back consistent with contractual commitments.

    (5) Technology R&D as in Obama’s budget — these are fine except that most of the demonstrators that cost more than $500 million should be scaled down to smaller demonstrators that $100-$200 million. And the emphasis of the R&D should be slowly changed to, like the aerospace research NASA does, supporting real commerce instead of future astronaut spectaculars.

    (5) Robotic precursor missions — these are more or less fine, but they should be focused on prospecting for ISRU, not on finding safe places for astronauts to land or similar HSF-centric nonsense. The focus of the ISRU should be broadly targeted towards possible future space industry in general and not astronaut missions in particular. Better characterizing the lunar polar volatiles — their locations, concentrations, and many other specifics — should be top priority.

    Now I’d love to hear further guesses as to which NASA contractor I’m shilling for. And I’m waiting with baited breath for all the squalling this proposal will produce from the actual NASA contractor shills and their space fan dupes. :-)

  • Mr Mark.. no!!!! The last you wanna do is make Elon unproductive by shoving him into that bureaucracy.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Googaw, I agree with much of what you say, but I’d be willing to support ISS for the foreseeable future, but not beyond the moment when a commercial replacement arrives. I see little need for testing asteroid mission hardware if there are no plans to go beyond LEO soon.

    If the plan is to go beyond LEO I’d be in favour of either first making sure we never give up a presence in LEO, or getting out of the manned spaceflight business altogether until cheap lift somehow arrives, probably far in the future.

    If the decision is made to keep doing manned spaceflight, then I would be in favour of exercising SpaceX’s COTS-D option and awarding only one other commercial crew contract, following a taxi model or a mixed taxi/rental car model. Orion could only be kept if it won the crew taxi contract and if it was scaled down to fit on an EELV Medium.

  • Martijn, I would estimate that ~$4 billion per year should be more than enough funding to accomplish your preferred HSF agenda. Down from ~$9 billion today.

    Do you agree?

  • googaw

    MM, so we agree more than we disagree about where to make the cuts? And as to the area where we differ, where would you cut more instead of ISS? I don’t think we can cut $4 billion per year out of the Exploration Directorate without cutting a significant fraction of ISS, and not doing COTS-D, but perhaps you’d make deep or total cuts in the technology research and robotic “precursor” missions instead? That’s not my preference but I’m willing to compromise. It’s easy to advocate an abstract $4-$5 billion cut but we’ve got to actually advocate specific cuts that add up to that amount. And we don’t motivate cuts by spending more time arguing to save our favorite remainder.

    My point about the research is that a handful of astronaut flights on the ISS are all the orbital HSF there is going to be for the next at least two and possibly five or more decades. After ISS ends HSF will go dormant for several decades. As much as that prospect seems to symbolically wound HSF fans, it’s the political and economic reality. So you’d better choose your experiments wisely. It’s not at all about the hardware, which will all be long obsolete by the time astronauts fly again. It’s about how well humans actually stand up to very long durations in microgravity. We have far too little data on that to know. I realize you believe that orbital tourism will somehow be able to pay for itself, but even in that unlikely case I heavily doubt that tourists are going to pay big money to watch their own bodies deteriorate.

    Not, of course, that this is actually an economically pressing question since astronauts are for the foreseeable future unimportant to real space commerce, but I’d think that HSF fans would want to know the answer to it before we grow old. But if you don’t, no skin off my neck. And all the more reason to cut ISS funding.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I don’t know what you mean by my preferred HSF agenda. In a fantasy world that could include RLVs, HLVs, spaceplanes etc and ordinary citizens going to space in large numbers. In another fantasy world it could mean no government space program at all, manned or unmanned. In the real world I would want the program to be implemented on whatever budget is available, designed to maximise synergy between manned exploration on the one hand and commercialisation of space and science on the other, and run on a budget that is substantially smaller than the current budget. I’m sure you could run a responsible space program for $4B a year.

  • googaw

    Pleasant abstractions to be sure MM, but doesn’t get us very far to abstractly advocate an overall budget cut while spending more time arguing to save our favorite programs — the end political result being budget increases as everybody’s favorite program lives on to waste even more money to be taken from my children’s future W-2s. It’s quite another thing to actually advocate for the many specific cuts that are needed to save the $4-$5 billion a year. Cutting Constellation and Ares is a fine start but they don’t add up to $4-$5 billion per year, and the savings is even smaller if we throw in new spending like COTS-D. That’s why I’m giving specifics and asking for specifics.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I agreed with most of your points above and offered some small differences. In what area do you want more specifics?

  • Martijn Meijering

    Sorry, missed your earlier post.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Isn’t Shuttle spending alone roughly $3.5B a year? Constellation was designed to absorb the same amount of funding and then some (which didn’t fully materialise). Reducing commercial crew to a single vehicle should save a bit too. Doesn’t that alone add up to $4B a year?

  • googaw

    Martijn, the numbers don’t add up. Obama’s budget as I understand it _increased_ Exploration Directorate’s budget even after canceling Constellation and Ares and continuing with the shutdown of the Shuttle. It did so by expanding a number of areas, especially extending the life of ISS, increasing “commercial” cargo and adding “commercial” crew, and the technology R&D and robotic precursor missions. So to cut $4 billion we need to cut at least $4 billion out of those areas in the Obama budget. Those are the specifics I’m asking for.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I don’t understand how that can be true. Significant amounts of money were spent on Constellation already. Do you think the Shuttle costs less than $3.5B a year? It seems difficult to believe all that could add up to less than $4B-$5B a year. If it doesn’t, then obviously ISS becomes a target for further cuts.

  • googaw

    It’s true. The Constellation and Shuttle are already basically off of Obama’s budget plan going forward. Yet Obama’s budget is actually bigger than the one it replaced. If you use Obama’s budget as the baseline you have to cut from the big things that Obama added as I listed above.

    On the other hand, if you are using the previous plan of record as the baseline, keep in mind that it had already canceled the Shuttle and on top of that it canceled U.S. funding for ISS — ISS was going to splash into the Pacific in 2015 or so. So using that as a baseline if you want to save ISS, not to mention adding commercial cargo and crew, you have to add those big items to the budget, probably $3-$4 billion/year which means you have to cut far more than $4 billion, indeed you probably have to cut $7-$8 billion, which means cutting far more than just Constellation/Ares.

    If you are merely proposing to cut $4 billion from an imaginary budget that includes keeping all of Shuttle, Constellation/Ares, and ISS, or even two of those, that’s meaningless because such a budget has never been seriously considered and would constitute a vast increase of the NASA budget. Such a move would be like the common game that is played of going from a hypothetical whopping increase to a mere big increase and then bragging that one has made a budget cut.


    So decide which budget you are cutting from and figure out what you want to cut from it. Advocating a cut in the abstract and then defending programs in the particular accomplishes the opposite of the cutting the budget.

  • Martijn Meijering

    OK, let’s look at the numbers from the 2010 budget:

    Exploration: $3.5B
    Shuttle: $3B
    ISS: $2.1B
    Space and Flight Support: $725M

    Shuttle and Exploration together add up to $6.5B. Sounds more than enough. Am I missing anything here?

  • googaw

    In other words you are proposing to completely cut all of the Obama/Garver/etc. proposals _except for_ “commercial” crew and ISS extension? You are proposing 100% cuts to technology R&D, robotic precursor missions, and KSC spaceport improvements, right? That is the obvious implication of your accounting above. Because those were not in the FY10 budget and you’re not accounting for adding them.

    $9.3 billion minus $4 billion is $5.3 billion, and minus $5 billion is $4.3 billion, right? But the actual current political baseline is the House and Senate bills largely based on the Obama plan. ISS + COTS + Commercial Crew + Technology R&D + robotic precusor missions + KSC launch port mods + spaceflight support adds up to _more than_ $9.3 billion, as the budget is larger for FY11. Even just ISS + COTS + Commercial Crew + spaceflight support adds up to about the entire $4.3-$5.3 billion, even if there are no cost overruns (highly unlikely in a NASA program) and even if you can 100% protect your own programs while the other guys’ getting completely cut including all of technology R&D and robotic precusors.

    We agree on the HLV cuts, but I don’t at all agree that my favorite programs (especially technology R&D and robotic precusors) should be cut 100% while yours get most or all of their projected funding. And it doesn’t seem a viable expecaton that the politics will go so overwhelmingly in favor of your favorites.

    If I have your wrong and you are not proposing 100% cuts to the technology R&D, robotic precusors, and KSC port mods in the House/Senata bill, then at what levels do you think those should be funded and what corresponding cuts would you make from ISS, COTS, and Commercial Crew to make the numbers add up? (You mentioned cutting back CC to one vendor instead of two and that’s a good start).

  • googaw

    Whoops, you said 2010 so I thought you were talking about FY2010 rather than FY2011. But the same general idea applies using FY11 as a baseline: by proposing to eliminate the vast majority of the Exploration budget you are implying nearly total cuts to technology R&D and robotic precursor missions — nearly complete protection of your own favorite missions but nearly complete cuts to the other guys. This may work as a starting position for negotiations but you’ll have to compromise quite a ways and give up on some of your expectations for ISS+COTS+CC before it becomes a politically viable way to actually cut $4-$5 billion.

    I love BTW that the new Republican proposal to cut and cap evolves by 2015 to just about the same amount of cuts, at least from the current rising “baseline”, that you proposed! Good timing MM.

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