The function of an Inspector General (IG) in the federal government is to detect waste, mismanagement, fraud, abuse, and even criminality. Each federal department or agency has an IG. But not all IGs are created equal. Some are fair minded watch-dogs who protect the taxpayer and follow the law in a nonpartisan way. But some are not. NASA’s Inspector General, Paul Martin, has repeatedly proven himself to be a defender of cronyism and a partisan hack.
Congressional leaders passed along whistleblower information to Martin that NASA had employed a Chinese spy and that Obama NASA appointees sought to circumvent the rules prohibiting the hiring of foreign nationals at NASA. Martin was angry with congressional leaders for revealing the spy problem, not with NASA officials for breaching our national security. He did nothing. Within days, the FBI arrested the Chinese spy, Bo Jiang, at the airport as he was fleeing to China on a one-way ticket with a treasure trove of sensitive information. Sadly, this was not the spy’s first data dump. But Martin wasn’t interested in investigating.
Martin isn’t just soft on spying at NASA. He has not protected the taxpayer, or rooted out waste or fraud. For example, NASA employees objected to the special treatment given SpaceX and provided evidence of favoritism, bid-rigging, and a long list of unethical and illegal actions. The entire process was subverted to benefit SpaceX, while the taxpayer was fleeced and competitors locked out. Long before the process was completed, top NASA officials were directing staff to give the award to SpaceX. In other words, the process was backwards — “Fire! Aim! Ready!”
This is precisely what an IG is supposed to review, expose and root out. But Martin helped hide it. He repeatedly and publicly praised SpaceX while refusing to investigate any of the illegalities or irregularities. NASA employees concluded that he and others were working to advantage a favorite crony of the administration, Mr. Musk.
Despite the phony praise heaped on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, it performed poorly. So having failed on its first contract, SpaceX was given a new, larger and longer contract by NASA to build a more powerful rocket that would do the job the first rocket should have done, but failed to do. The new contract overcharged taxpayers by almost 200% and SpaceX was paid even when they failed. Martin has never bothered to investigate whether SpaceX should reimburse taxpayers for the billions wasted.
Elon Musk is a genius at public relations — not at launching rockets. Just look at all the failures — something Musk hopes to hide by killing video feeds when rockets fail. But political appointees at NASA, including Martin, gave Musk the cover he needed to bamboozle the public. Additionally, Martin’s failure to provide honest oversight helped SpaceX get paid top dollar for a program that has not delivered value.
Martin is still at it — using his office to ensure a crony system rather than protecting the taxpayer and ensuring the fair administration of the law. Martin just released an IG report that is highly critical of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will carry American astronauts back to the moon and deep into space to Mars and beyond. Interestingly, this program is progressing well, and other struggling programs have not been reviewed.
With SLS, NASA is building the world’s most powerful and complex rocket in 50 years. As anything that is this large and high-tech, it has had a few early challenges, but they’ve been overcome. The first rocket will be completed shortly and the second is in progress. The program will come in at a reasonable cost. But the IG report blasts the program for cost overruns that simply do not exist.
Even NASA disagrees with the IG’s conclusions. The IG report focuses on early developmental challenges, but ignores their resolution. The SLS program is now progressing well and at reasonable costs. But the IG report assumes the worst case scenario at every conceivable turn and then uses those absurd assumptions to conclude the program is suffering from cost overruns. Martin’s report even assumes that completed work will somehow result in future cost overruns. For example, purchased parts for the second and subsequent rockets are attributed to the first rocket so as to inflate its cost. Martin also feigns reform proposals by making “recommendations” that the contractors and NASA have already generated and put into practice.
The bottom line is clear — Martin is not an honest or fair-minded watchdog at NASA. If President Trump wants his space exploration program to get off the ground, he must appoint a new, ethical, and principled IG. Leaving a political hack in this spot will only frustrate the president’s space exploration agenda.