Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - NASA's chief found himself mired in another controversy Monday, this time for making "inappropriate" contact with an oil company while considering an alternative fuel project.
The space agency's inspector general reported that a 10-minute phone conversation last April between Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. and a senior Marathon Oil Corp. official was inconsistent with the ethics pledge he signed upon taking office last year. It also raised concerns about an appearance of a conflict of interest, the inspector general said.
Bolden -- a two-time space shuttle commander and retired Marine general -- is a former board member of
In an 11-page report, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin concluded that Bolden's contact with
Over the summer, Bolden said in an interview with Middle Eastern news network Al-Jazeera that one of NASA's main tasks was to reach out to the Muslim world and help Muslims feel good about their historical contributions to science. NASA and the White House spent a good part of July trying to defend and explain Bolden's comments.
And earlier in the year, Bolden upset many of NASA's work force with the abrupt way he rolled out President Obama's new vision for human space exploration after the shuttle program ends. The new space plan kills the moon-bound Constellation program that the agency had been working on and redirects future astronauts to asteroids and Mars -- with heavy emphasis on commercially built spaceships.
Bolden subsequently apologized for how he handled the matter, given all the anxieties about impending job losses throughout the shuttle program.
As for the latest flap, Bolden acknowledged to the inspector general that he made a mistake when he talked to
"We find these actions appropriate and sufficient to address our findings," the inspector general's report said.
The algae-based fuel research project, called Omega, is run by NASA's
The inspector general said Bolden pledged upon taking office in July 2009 to refrain for two years from having private communications with
One of those interviewed for the inspector general's report was the director of
In an e-mail exchange in May with NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, Worden wrote: "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."
Worden continued: "This is frankly the worst of NASA and I don't like it. It is 'good ole boy' networks at its worst and not worthy of NASA and this Administration."
Bolden said he readily accepts the inspector general's findings.
"My intention was to gather an outside perspective about a potential agency research project," Bolden, 64, said in a statement issued by NASA on Monday. "I should have explored the implications of my inquiry prior to acting."
The Omega project continues, Bolden noted, "and its future development will be decided solely on its technical merits."NASA has committed to funding the project for up to $10 million over the next two years.