NASA IG: Hanley reassignment proper

In late May NASA reassigned Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley, a decision most people first heard about during a House Science and Technology Committee hearing featuring administrator Charles Bolden. That decision triggered a strong reaction among some members of Congress who considered the move a form of retribution against a manager who opposed the agency's plans to end Constellation. Two key senators, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the chair and ranking member respectively of the Senate Commerce Committee, went so far as to request an investigation by the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) regarding "whether his removal as program manager was related to Mr. Hanley's well-publicized efforts to preserve the Constellation Program." The OIG did conduct an investigation and, in a letter to Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison on Tuesday, Inspector General Paul Martin reported no evidence of wrongdoing by the agency in its decision to reassign Hanley to a newly-created position at the Johnson Space Center. The reassignment, Martin said, was "a management decision" after Hanley "sent a series of e-mails to senior NASA officials that caused them to conclude that he could not effectively lead Constellation" during the program's current political turmoil. In addition, Hanley himself "does not claim he was retaliated against", and the OIG "uncovered no evidence of unlawful reprisal." The reassignment, the letter added, did not "foreclose Congress's ability to consider meaningful alternatives" to the FY11 budget proposal, echoing language in the original letter by the senators. The seven-page letter provides a detailed chronology of events that led up to Hanley's May 26th reassignment. In particular, we learn that Bolden considered removing Hanley from his position as Constellation manager almost a month earlier, in response to an email Hanley sent Bolden after the administrator spoke at JSC. In the email Hanley was sharply critical of the decision to cancel Constellation: "…to hear NASA leadership and administration officials further spread the spin and accusations of others without giving us a chance to rebutt [sic] or respond, does not align with the core values you recited to us today." Bolden told the OIG that in "normal circumstances" he would have reassigned Hanley, but instead chose at the time to keep him in place, chalking up the email to frustration. Hanley was warned, but on May 18 wrote another email, this one to Doug Cooke, the associate administrator for exploration, criticizing the agency's position on termination liability as "untenable". A day later, according to the OIG, Cooke met with Bolden and both agreed that Hanley needed to be reassigned.

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