[FPSPACE] Latest from the Associated Press...attempts at influencing Shuttle inquiry?

Peter Pesavento eagles267@wwainc.com
Thu, 28 Aug 2003 22:26:46 -0400


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Aug 28, 2003

NASA Employee Proposed 'complete Scrub' of Web Site After Columbia =
Disaster
By Ted Bridis
Associated Press Writer=20

WASHINGTON (AP) - Just days after the shuttle Columbia disaster, a NASA =
employee at headquarters proposed scrubbing the agency's safety office =
Web site to remove outdated or wrong information that could become "chum =
in the water to reporters and congressmen."=20
"We wouldn't want to be sucker punched by someone based on something we =
have posted," employee Wilson Harkins wrote in an e-mail released this =
week by NASA.=20

NASA said Thursday that 18 routine documents were added to the Web site =
since the accident and none was removed. Spokeswoman Melissa Motichek =
said Harkins was trying to make sure the site was accurate and =
up-to-date.=20

"The e-mail speaks for itself," Motichek said.=20

A former NASA investigator, Joseph Richard Gutheinz, said that in the =
aftermath of the shuttle accident it was inappropriate for NASA to =
suggest removing any documents until they were reviewed by =
investigators.=20

"Whenever you have an investigation, everything should freeze," said =
Gutheinz, who worked in NASA's inspector general office for 10 years. =
"You don't get rid of anything. You have a duty to your country, to the =
NASA program and the investigation to allow them to see everything you =
have before you start tossing this stuff."=20

Harkins' e-mail and other newly disclosed documents describe how NASA =
was braced for the investigation into the Columbia tragedy. Harkins =
urged that the agency should review NASA mishap files to answer =
inevitable questions from "some enterprising newshound or congressional =
staffer."=20

"Has anyone done a complete scrub of the Code Q (safety division) Web =
pages to make sure they are current?" Harkins wrote in a Feb. 6 e-mail, =
five days after Columbia's breakup killed its crew. "Out-of-date or =
erroneous information is like chum in the water to reporters and =
congressmen."=20

Harkins was on vacation Thursday and did not return messages left at his =
home and office. The recipient of the e-mail, manager John Lemke, has =
retired and did not return a message left at his home in Virginia.=20

The e-mail emerges as NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe promises that his =
agency will radically change its culture in response to a stinging =
investigative report that partly blames the agency's bureaucracy for the =
shuttle's demise.=20

Columbia investigators have publicly praised NASA for its cooperation, =
and one outside public relations executive said it is common for large =
organizations in the midst of crisis to make every effort to provide =
consistent and accurate information.=20

"That particular communique is fairly raw, there's nothing sugar-coated =
there," said Steve O'Keeffe, president of the O'Keeffe & Co. public =
relations firm in McLean, Va. "It's every communications department's =
objective to manage the perception of the organization as best as =
possible. Exactly these kinds of documents exist in corporate America =
everywhere."=20

Another expert, a management professor at the Wharton School at the =
University of Pennsylvania, said it was important for organizations =
during a crisis to preserve all documents - even incorrect or outdated =
ones - to help determine events that might have led to the crisis. But =
he said Harkins' e-mail didn't seem inappropriate.=20

"It does not communicate to me there is something inappropriate or =
illicit being argued here," said Michael Useem, Wharton's director at =
the Center for Leadership and Change Management.=20

NASA disclosed Harkins' e-mail under the Freedom of Information Act =
among 667 pages of documents on the eve of the release of the final =
report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. NASA disclosed =
other e-mails involving the safety office two weeks earlier.=20

Other newly released documents included e-mail from Peter J. Rutledge, =
the director for NASA's enterprise safety and mission assurance =
division, instructing all employees to seek approval from managers =
before sending any new materials to shuttle investigators, "so that we =
will have a complete record of what goes out."=20

Motichek said Rutledge's instructions were "an effort to keep track of =
what the office was producing and to make sure there was no =
contradictory information." She said Rutledge and another senior safety =
executive did not deny any request to send materials to shuttle =
investigators.=20

O'Keefe said earlier this week there was "nary a hint" that the agency =
had sought to influence the outcome of the shuttle inquiry.=20

"What we wanted was an unvarnished, straightforward assessment from =
them, and we got that," O'Keefe said.=20

Other documents include suggested responses for managers, including =
O'Keefe, to questions that NASA anticipated from investigators and =
congressional oversight committees, as well as copies of forwarded news =
articles about the accident investigation.=20

One e-mail, marked "HOT HOT HOT," cautioned NASA employees that O'Keefe =
"will be playing Double Jeopardy" with lawmakers in an upcoming joint =
congressional hearing days later.=20

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<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2><!--StartFragment --><FONT =
face=3D"Times New Roman"=20
size=3D3>&nbsp;</FONT>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Aug 28, =
2003</FONT></P>
<H2><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>NASA =
Employee Proposed=20
'complete Scrub' of Web Site After Columbia Disaster</FONT></H2><FONT=20
face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>By Ted =
Bridis<BR>Associated Press=20
Writer <BR><BR>WASHINGTON (AP) - Just days after the shuttle Columbia =
disaster,=20
a NASA employee at headquarters proposed scrubbing the agency's safety =
office=20
Web site to remove outdated or wrong information that could become "chum =
in the=20
water to reporters and congressmen." </FONT>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"We wouldn't =
want to be=20
sucker punched by someone based on something we have posted," employee =
Wilson=20
Harkins wrote in an e-mail released this week by NASA. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>NASA said =
Thursday that=20
18 routine documents were added to the Web site since the accident and =
none was=20
removed. Spokeswoman Melissa Motichek said Harkins was trying to make =
sure the=20
site was accurate and up-to-date. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"The e-mail =
speaks for=20
itself," Motichek said. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>A former =
NASA=20
investigator, Joseph Richard Gutheinz, said that in the aftermath of the =
shuttle=20
accident it was inappropriate for NASA to suggest removing any documents =
until=20
they were reviewed by investigators. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"Whenever =
you have an=20
investigation, everything should freeze," said Gutheinz, who worked in =
NASA's=20
inspector general office for 10 years. "You don't get rid of anything. =
You have=20
a duty to your country, to the NASA program and the investigation to =
allow them=20
to see everything you have before you start tossing this stuff." =
</FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Harkins' =
e-mail and=20
other newly disclosed documents describe how NASA was braced for the=20
investigation into the Columbia tragedy. Harkins urged that the agency =
should=20
review NASA mishap files to answer inevitable questions from "some =
enterprising=20
newshound or congressional staffer." </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"Has anyone =
done a=20
complete scrub of the Code Q (safety division) Web pages to make sure =
they are=20
current?" Harkins wrote in a Feb. 6 e-mail, five days after Columbia's =
breakup=20
killed its crew. "Out-of-date or erroneous information is like chum in =
the water=20
to reporters and congressmen." </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Harkins was =
on vacation=20
Thursday and did not return messages left at his home and office. The =
recipient=20
of the e-mail, manager John Lemke, has retired and did not return a =
message left=20
at his home in Virginia. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>The e-mail =
emerges as=20
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe promises that his agency will radically =
change=20
its culture in response to a stinging investigative report that partly =
blames=20
the agency's bureaucracy for the shuttle's demise. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Columbia =
investigators=20
have publicly praised NASA for its cooperation, and one outside public =
relations=20
executive said it is common for large organizations in the midst of =
crisis to=20
make every effort to provide consistent and accurate information. =
</FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"That =
particular=20
communique is fairly raw, there's nothing sugar-coated there," said =
Steve=20
O'Keeffe, president of the O'Keeffe &amp; Co. public relations firm in =
McLean,=20
Va. "It's every communications department's objective to manage the =
perception=20
of the organization as best as possible. Exactly these kinds of =
documents exist=20
in corporate America everywhere." </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Another =
expert, a=20
management professor at the Wharton School at the University of =
Pennsylvania,=20
said it was important for organizations during a crisis to preserve all=20
documents - even incorrect or outdated ones - to help determine events =
that=20
might have led to the crisis. But he said Harkins' e-mail didn't seem=20
inappropriate. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"It does not =
communicate=20
to me there is something inappropriate or illicit being argued here," =
said=20
Michael Useem, Wharton's director at the Center for Leadership and =
Change=20
Management. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>NASA =
disclosed Harkins'=20
e-mail under the Freedom of Information Act among 667 pages of documents =
on the=20
eve of the release of the final report by the Columbia Accident =
Investigation=20
Board. NASA disclosed other e-mails involving the safety office two =
weeks=20
earlier. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Other newly =
released=20
documents included e-mail from Peter J. Rutledge, the director for =
NASA's=20
enterprise safety and mission assurance division, instructing all =
employees to=20
seek approval from managers before sending any new materials to shuttle=20
investigators, "so that we will have a complete record of what goes =
out."=20
</FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Motichek =
said Rutledge's=20
instructions were "an effort to keep track of what the office was =
producing and=20
to make sure there was no contradictory information." She said Rutledge =
and=20
another senior safety executive did not deny any request to send =
materials to=20
shuttle investigators. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>O'Keefe said =
earlier=20
this week there was "nary a hint" that the agency had sought to =
influence the=20
outcome of the shuttle inquiry. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>"What we =
wanted was an=20
unvarnished, straightforward assessment from them, and we got that," =
O'Keefe=20
said. </FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>Other =
documents include=20
suggested responses for managers, including O'Keefe, to questions that =
NASA=20
anticipated from investigators and congressional oversight committees, =
as well=20
as copies of forwarded news articles about the accident investigation.=20
</FONT></P>
<P><FONT face=3Dverdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif size=3D2>One e-mail, =
marked "HOT=20
HOT HOT," cautioned NASA employees that O'Keefe "will be playing Double=20
Jeopardy" with lawmakers in an upcoming joint congressional hearing days =
later.=20
</FONT></P></FONT></DIV></BODY></HTML>

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