44 The Obama Presidency
NASA Chief Denies Rift With Transition Team
By Joel Achenbach
NASA Adminstrator Michael Griffin today denounced an Orlando Sentinel report that he and the space agency had been uncooperative with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team. The story, headlined "NASA Has Become a Transition Problem for Obama," stated that Griffin had obstructed efforts by the transition to get information and had recently told a transition team leader that she was "not qualified" to analyze plans for rocketing humans into space.
"This report, largely supported by anonymous sources and hearsay, is simply wrong," Griffin wrote in an e-mail to NASA employees.
Not known as a diplomat, and fierce in a debate, Griffin had a very public face-off last week at a book party at NASA headquarters with Lori Garver, a leader of the Obama transition team assigned to the space agency. According to the Sentinel story, the encounter became heated and Griffin became "red-faced." The article quoted a snippet of conversation based on the account of unnamed eyewitnesses.
"Mike, I don't understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood," Garver reportedly said.
"If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar," Griffin reportedly replied. "Because it means you don't trust what I say is under the hood."
Chris Shank, NASA chief of strategic communications, told The Post that Griffin and Garver are friends and Griffin did not perceive their encounter as heated: "He said to me this morning, 'I sure didn't think that was an argument. We were having a discussion about stuff.' "
Shank said the two were discussing the merits of Griffin's plan to develop a new rocket, Ares I, to put people into orbit after the space shuttle is retired. The alternative would be to upgrade an existing rocket, not yet rated as safe for human flight. Shank confirmed that Griffin questioned whether the Obama transition team had the engineering qualifications to analyze the merits of the different rockets.
John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute of George Washington University, said he could see but not hear the conversation as he signed books across the room.
"No voices were raised. No blows were struck. It was an eyeball to eyeball in the sense of two people having an intense discussion, people gingerly walking around them," Logsdon said. "These kind of conversations are going on all over town now. But almost all of them are behind closed doors. What's different on this one is that it was in a public setting."
Garver said she was not permitted to comment.
Griffin's e-mail today declared that NASA would be fully cooperative with the Obama transition team.
"I would like to reiterate what I have stated in a previous email to all NASA Officials: we must make every effort to 'lean forward,' to answer questions promptly, openly and accurately.
"We are fully cooperating with transition team members. Since mid-November, the agency has provided 414 documents and 185 responses to 191 requests.
"There are six outstanding responses, and the agency will meet the deadline for those queries.
"Also, we strongly urge full and free cooperation by companies performing work for NASA. I am appalled by any accusations of intimidation, and encourage a free and open exchange of information with the contractor community."
Posted at 5:51 PM ET on Dec 11, 2008
44 The Obama Presidency
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