A disturbing situation at NASA. That is the subject of this evening's Talking Points memo.
If you have ever experienced a sudden death of a family member or friend, you know that it is the worst thing on this earth. My best friend, Joe Spencer, a correspondent for ABC News, was killed in a helicopter crash and the impact on his wife and family is indescribable.
So the nation mourns for the seven astronauts on board the Columbia, with prayers and condolences. There is, however, an aspect of the story that needs an explanation from the federal government.
Apparently, five of the nine members of NASA's Safety Advisory Panel were fired last year, and another member, three star admiral, Bernard Kauderer, quit in protest. The panel was critical of NASA's budget and management, saying that budget cutbacks had endangered long-term safety on the shuttle and that sweeping change was needed.
In the time-honored tradition of punishing critics, most of the panel was sacked. NASA's official reason is that the group needed younger members. Blah, blah, blah.
As we saw when two police officers were dismissed after uncovering corruption at the Los Alamos nuclear facility, the government doesn't handle negativity very well.
The Factor helped get the men reinstated as consultants, but we also understood the message. Many government officials do not want to hear bad news and will punish those who bear it. Is this the case at NASA?
One man should know. Former NASA chief Daniel Goldin, who presided over the safety council that was sacked. He wasn't there when they were fired, but he put it together.
So where is Mr. Goldin? We called his house, and his wife said, "He is devastated and mourning along with the families of the seven astronauts. He doesn't feel it is appropriate to do interviews. The NASA family is truly a family and he is focused right now on trying to help those involved."
Well, with all due respect to Mr. Goldin, that just doesn't cut it. You, sir, have an obligation to the families to explain what happened to the safety experts, if you know. And if you don't, to tell us who does know.
Right now, the NASA officials are running for cover, but you're out of government. You have an obligation to shed light on any problems NASA was experiencing.
President Bush could get a message to Goldin that his presence and expertise is needed now and if the president won't, members of Congress should.
Talking Points is not pointing any fingers at anybody, but answers must be forthcoming about the safety board. If everything is above board, then fine. But if documented bad news led to petty firings, Americans have the right to know about it.
So buck up, Daniel Goldin, and start taking questions. The families and everybody else in this country have the right to some answers.
And that's The Memo.
The Villain of the Week
Actress Jane Fonda is pulling back her $12.5 million donation to Harvard. She had already given the school $6 million for educational gender studies. Now Ms. Fonda says the economic climate has changed.
Is that AOL I'm hearing out there? We don't know exactly what that means, but it could mean Jane doesn't have much money left, which could be ridiculous.