GOP senator calls for special probe of NASA decision to reassign manager

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) has called for an inspector general investigation of NASA’s decision to reassign the program manager of its manned spaceflight program.

Hutchison, one of the staunchest opponents of President Barack Obama’s plan to end NASA’s Constellation program, said she is deeply troubled by NASA’s decision to move the manager of the program.

“I am deeply troubled to have learned that the program manager for the Constellation program was removed from his post. The timing of the program manager’s removal raises significant concerns about whether NASA is continuing to implement the authorized program as directed by Congress,” Hutchison said.

She asked for the investigation on Thursday, one day after NASA Administrator Charles Bolden acknowledged the move at a House Science and Technology Committee hearing.

In February, the Obama administration unveiled a plan to end the Constellation program and shift NASA’s focus to building a capsule to take astronauts to Mars and beyond.

Hutchison and her Republican colleagues responded by adding an amendment to the supplemental spending bill for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that reinforces an existing law requiring congressional approval before the administration can take steps to cut the manned spaceflight program. That legislation is still pending in Congress.

Former Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley will now serve as the associate director for Strategic Capabilities at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). Lawrence Thomas will become acting manager of Constellation.

According to a NASA spokesman, Hanley will be tasked with preserving NASA’s human spaceflight capabilities at the Johnson center.

“He is charged with ensuring that JSC’s human spaceflight capabilities, both people and facilities, are properly aligned and positioned to perform the new mission portfolio proposed by the president’s budget,” said the spokesman.

Hutchison said the move shows the Obama administration has already taken steps to implement its plan despite resistance from lawmakers.

“E-mails sent to program officials last week indicate that NASA senior administrators were actively mandating de-prioritizing funding for elements of the program that do not fit within the president’s new proposal,” Hutchison said. “I will be requesting NASA’s inspector general to conduct a full and thorough investigation.”

This article was updated at 7:32 p.m.