Lawmakers ask for presidential commission to investigate disaster
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 6, 2003
A group of lawmakers has asked President Bush to name an independent board to investigate the Columbia disaster. An internal NASA investigation currently is underway, along with a parallel investigation by a board made up of non-NASA personnel invited to participiate by agency Administrator Sean O'Keefe. That panel is known as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, or AIB.
Rep. Ralph M. Hall (D-TX), Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) and other lawmakers questioned the objectivity of the accident probe and in a letter to the president today, asked that a presidential commission be established because "all of the support personnel initially provided to the AIB are senior NASA officials."
"While we commend the openness with which NASA has shared information on the Columbia accident with the public and the Congress, we are concerned that the AIB has the appearance of a non-independent board controlled by NASA," Hall and Gordon wrote. "This is in contrast to President Reagan's establishment of the Rogers Commission, which provided for a truly independent, broad-ranging panel (to investigate the Challenger disaster).
"We would respectfully ask that the charter of the AIB be re-drafted to reflect a broad mandate encompassing contributory causes, management issues, and pressures on the system. In addition, we would recommend that, to ensure its complete independence, the AIB should report directly to you and to the Congress and that the support staff for the Board should come from agencies other than NASA.
"This is not meant in any way to demean the dedication and excellence of NASA's workforce, but to ensure, as President Reagan did 17 years ago, that the AIB would proceed in as unfettered and open a manner as possible. Finally we would suggest that the membership of the AIB be expanded in a manner similar to that of the Rogers Commission, and that Administrator O'Keefe solicit suggestions for new members from key Members of Congress. Mr. O'Keefe has already indicated a willingness to consider Congressional nominations."
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