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What’s Up With NASA?

The Orlando Sentinel has a really incredible story this morning about intransigence at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

According to The Sentinel, the problems began when representatives of the transition descended on NASA, as they have at all federal agencies, to take stock of what is going on. When the transition members asked how much money could be saved by scrapping the Constellation project, which is a central part of President George W. Bush’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, Griffin apparently took that as a cue for resistance, according to the article.

The Sentinel paints a picture of NASA top brass that is reminiscent of an extremely authoritarian regime. Interviews conducted by transition officials with NASA employees are monitored by NASA officials “taking copious notes,” and Griffin demanded contractors clear in advance any information given to the transition. The article concludes with this remarkable anecdote:

Tensions were on public display last week at the NASA library, as overheard by guests at a book party.

According to people who were present, Logsdon, a space historian, told a group of about 50 people he had just learned that President John F. Kennedy’s transition team had completely ignored NASA.

Griffin responded, in a loud voice, “I wish the Obama team would come and talk to me.”

Alan Ladwig, a transition team member who was at the party with Garver, shouted out: “Well, we’re here now, Mike.”

Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.

“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.

“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.”

Hmmmm…It sounds like NASA may be an obvious place for Peter Orszag, Obama’s designee to head the Office of Management and Budget, to look for multi-billion dollar boondoggles to trim from the federal budget.

(Via Ben Smith)

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