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OSC: High Level NASA Hatch Investigations Present Cautionary Tale

CONTACT: Loren Smith, 202-254-3714, lsmith@osc.gov
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch today announced that his office has completed its investigation into events surrounding a 2004 presidential campaign appearance by Sen. John Kerry at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Debus Facility Center in Florida as well as a 2006 awards banquet in Texas involving NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin’s alleged endorsement of Rep. Tom DeLay.

          The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent watchdog agency charged with enforcing limitations on political activity by federal employees, has concluded that use of the Debus Center facility for Senator Kerry’s campaign on July 26, 2004 did not violate the Hatch Act because the Center is not a building in which federal employees work. However, OSC did find that broadcasting and Web-streaming this campaign event via NASA Select channel to 2,000 NASA employees and 13,000 NASA contractors in the KSC community, while on duty and in the federal workplace, violated the Act.

          OSC’s investigation revealed that senior management officials at the KSC relied on incorrect advice of counsel and then-existing NASA guidelines in authorizing the broadcasting and web-streaming of the Kerry campaign event to the KSC community. As a result of OSC’s investigation, NASA has updated its guidelines so that they are consistent with the protections and prohibitions of the Hatch Act. In addition, as part of a settlement agreement, all KSC employees are required to view an OSC training video on the Hatch Act.

          In the matter involving NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin, OSC investigated allegations that, on March 24, 2006, while appearing in his official capacity as Administrator of NASA, Dr. Michael Griffin endorsed former Representative Tom DeLay, then a Congressional candidate in Texas who was also under indictment for campaign-finance issues. The endorsement allegedly occurred during Dr. Griffin’s keynote speech at the Rotary Club National Awards for Space Achievement Banquet in Houston, Texas, which was near Representative DeLay’s Congressional district. After being introduced by Representative DeLay, Dr. Griffin stated:

The space program has had no better friends in its entire existence than Tom DeLay. He’s still with us, and we need to keep him there. There just are no better people.

          Immediately following the event, OSC received inquiries from the press concerning the propriety of Dr. Griffin endorsing Mr. DeLay in his Congressional bid. OSC opened an investigation into whether Dr. Griffin violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using one’s official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. Dr. Griffin denied that he was endorsing Mr. DeLay or trying to use his official authority to influence an election and instead asserted that he was only speaking of Mr. DeLay’s long-standing support for the NASA program. Given the ambiguity of the statement, the fact that it was widely known that Mr. DeLay’s future in Congress was unclear and that his race for Congress was close, OSC looked closely at the circumstances of these statements and similar statements Dr. Griffin had made in the past.

          OSC concluded that as a high-level federal government official, Dr. Griffin should have exercised better judgment when making his remarks at the banquet and that, arguably, the remarks he made in his official capacity as NASA Administrator could have been viewed as an endorsement of Mr. DeLay. OSC has decided, however, to close its file in the matter. Special Counsel Scott Bloch has sent a firm warning letter detailing OSC’s concerns to Dr. Griffin.

          “These incidents highlight the types of events that supervisors, especially top-level directors and agency heads, must anticipate and provide a better example of proper action while using their official capacity. Engaging in political activity on the job is prohibited," said Special Counsel Scott Bloch. "Giving the impression of political coercion is unhealthy in the government. Everyone needs to abide by these prohibitions, but we expect high level officials to provide a better example, one that instills greater public trust in government. The Hatch Act is a critical tool for fighting improper electioneering or use of official power to influence elections, and OSC will continue to be vigilant in its mission to educate the workforce, investigate allegations, and prosecute offenders.”


The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent investigative and prosecutorial agency. Among other functions, it investigates and prosecutes complaints alleging violations of the Hatch Act and provides advisory opinions regarding the Act’s requirements. For more information about OSC, please visit our web site at www.osc.gov or call 1-800-872-1855.

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