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A Brief Summary of James E. Hansen’s NASA Ethics File

Green advocacy begets green income.

by
Christopher Horner

Bio

November 18, 2011 - 10:14 am

NASA records released to resolve litigation filed by the American Tradition Institute reveal that Dr. James E. Hansen, an astronomer, received approximately $1.6 million in outside, direct cash income in the past five years for work related to — and, according to his benefactors, often expressly for — his public service as a global warming activist within NASA.

This does not include six-figure income over that period in travel expenses to fly around the world to receive money from outside interests. As specifically detailed below, Hansen failed to report tens of thousands of dollars in global travel provided to him by outside parties — including to London, Paris, Rome, Oslo, Tokyo, the Austrian Alps, Bilbao, California, Australia and elsewhere, often business or first-class and also often paying for his wife as well — to receive honoraria to speak about the topic of his taxpayer-funded employment, or get cash awards for his activism and even for his past testimony and other work for NASA.

Ethics laws require that such payments or gifts be reported on an SF278 public financial disclosure form. As detailed, below, Hansen nonetheless regularly refused to report this income.

Also, he seems to have inappropriately taken between $10,000 and $26,000 for speeches unlawfully promoting him as a NASA employee. This is despite NASA ordering him to return at least some of the money, with the rest apparently unnoticed by NASA. This raises troubling issues about Hansen’s, and NASA’s, compliance with ethics rules, the general prohibition on not privately benefitting from public service, and even the criminal code prohibition on not having one’s public employment income supplemented. All of this lucrative activity followed Hansen ratcheting up his global warming alarmism and activism to be more political which, now to his possible detriment, he has insisted is part of his job. As he cannot receive outside income for doing his job, he has placed himself in peril, assuming the Department of Justice can find a way to be interested in these revelations.

The following summarizes records produced by the Department of Justice to resolve litigation against the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for refusing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the required financial disclosures Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

These records are his applications for outside employment or other activity (form 17-60), approvals and accompanying documents, and public financial disclosure (form SF 278).

As detailed in the American Tradition Institute’s lawsuit which yielded these records, Hansen suddenly became the recipient of many, often lucrative offers of outside employment and awards after he escalated his political activism — using his NASA position as a platform, and springboard. This began with a strident “60 Minutes” interview in early 2006, alleging political interference by the Bush administration in climate science.

Hansen acknowledged this timing on his website, noting that first he was offered an award of “a moderate amount of cash– $10,000″ by an outside activist group. He claims to have turned this down because of the nominating process (without elaborating what that meant), and because of the impropriety of appearing to be financially rewarded for his outspokenness (“I was concerned that it may create the appearance that I had spoken out about government censorship [sic] for the sake of the $”).

Given that Hansen makes no bones about his (often outrageous) outspokenness and activism being, in his view, part of his job, this surely is also another way of saying it would look as if he were having his NASA salary supplemented by appreciative activists and others. That would violate the criminal code, 18 U.S.C. 209.

Yet, as the offers soon became larger, Hansen changed his mind.

The records reveal that NASA initially was very direct in warning Hansen of his responsibilities and prohibitions relating to these activities, which covered the subject of his public employment. Later, after Hansen gained much media attention and condemnation of his NASA superiors for (falsely) claiming he had been “muzzled” (the second president named Bush he claimed had muzzled him), certain clear restatements of the law were dropped from the approval letters responding to his applications for outside employment.

NASA oversight of Hansen’s compliance with ethics-related reporting requirements similarly waned. At no point did they seek reconciliation of his serially conflicting attestations detailed here.

Improper Receipt of Outside Income Without Obtaining Advance Permission

Hansen’s 2009 speech at Dartmouth University for a $5,000 honorarium and up to $1,000 in expenses came in violation of the clear rule against promoting his appearances as, or emphasizing his job with, NASA. It also had not been approved. NASA’s Deputy Chief Counsel Laura Giza, after admonishing these violations, demanded he return the improperly obtained money:

“[Y]ou may not accept the offered honorarium and travel expenses. If you’ve already received this money, you need to return it to Dartmouth.

Also, in the future, if you have not received word that one of your outside activity requests has been approved, or at least that the legal office has concurred in the request, you should contact the Goddard legal office about the request before engaging in that activity. NASA regulations require that you obtain approval for certain outside activities…prior to engaging in that activity. 5 CFR 6901.103(d).”

If there were further correspondence about this demand it would be in NASA’s document production, but there are no such records. The only lawful scenario, therefore, is that Hansen quietly agreed to the demand, but did not inform NASA whether he complied. Otherwise, NASA, Hansen, or both have violated the ethics and/or transparency statutes and regulation.

Yet subsequent financial disclosure forms show Hansen attesting to accepting even more money, between $5,001 and $15,000, for a 2008 speech at Illinois Wesleyan University for which his file, according to NASA, contains no request for permission to engage in this outside employment, or approval to do so (each a condition precedent to lawfully engage in the activity, and to accepting the money).

There is no correspondence about these two glaring discrepancies in his filings reflecting more apparently improperly accepted outside income than most federal employees will ever see in their careers.

In order to continue his employment Hansen would therefore be required to bring himself back in compliance with the ethics rules by returning the money, between somewhere more than $10,000, and $26,000.

Although Hansen reported the income from both honoraria, he did not report receipt of travel expenses for him to get there. This omission is a pattern in his filings, to the tune of surely tens of thousands of dollars for airfare, meals and lodging to locations all around the country and Europe, all required by ethics laws to be reported.

For example, consider these failures to report often elegant air and hotel/resort accommodations received on his SF278 as required by law (the amount of direct cash income received from the party providing him travel, as well, is in parentheses):

Blue Planet Prize ($500,000), travel for Hansen and his wife to Tokyo, Japan, 2010

Dan David Prize ($500,000), travel to Paris, 2007

Sophie Prize ($100,000), Oslo Norway, travel for Hansen and his wife, 2010

WWF Duke of Edinburgh Award, Travel for Hansen and his wife, London, 2006

Alpbach, Austria (alpine resort)(“business class”, with wife), 2007

Shell Oil UK ($10,000), London, 2009

FORO Cluster de Energia, travel for Hansen and wife (“business class”), Bilbao, Spain, 2008

ACT Coalition, travel for Hansen and wife to London, 2007

Progressive Forum ($10,000)(“first class”), to Houston, 2006

Progressive Forum ($10,000), to Houston, 2009

UCSB ($10,000), to Santa Barbara, CA

Nierenberg Prize ($25,000), to San Diego, 2008

Nevada Medal ($20,000), to Las Vegas, Reno, 2008

EarthWorks Expos, to Denver, 2006

California Academy of Science ($1,500), to San Francisco, 2009

CalTech ($2,000), travel to Pasadena, CA for Hansen and his wife, 2007

The following is an incomplete list of other travel apparently accepted to make paid speeches and/or receive cash awards but not reported on SF278 financial disclosures:

Boston, Washington, DC (twice); Columbus, OH; Omaha, NE; Wilmington, DE; Ithaca, NY (business class); Chapel Hill, NC; Deerfield, IL (Sierra Club “No Coal” campaign); Dartmouth, NH; Alberta, Canada (as consultant to a law firm helping run an anti-oil sands campaign), Stanford; Minneapolis; Missoula, MT

Other travel apparently accepted but not reported, to provide expert testimony including on cases involving federal policy:

California (Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep v. Witherspoon), Vermont (Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth etc v. Torti)

Failing to Report Gifts

World Wildlife Fund gave Hansen an engraved Montres Rolex watch, which typically run $8,000 and up (2006), but which was not reported by Hansen on his SF 278 under “gifts”, which must be reported if valued at more than $260.

Failure to Report Receipt of Free Legal Services

On his website Hansen said he began accepting free legal services in 2006. These are not reported on his financial disclosures, as they should be.

Also, NASA’s document production shows him attesting to receiving more, separate free legal services in the form of an amicus brief drafted for he and a few others to intervene before the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA. This was not reported on his SF278, as required.

These lapses on both Hansen’s part and NASA demand scrutiny to determine how laws designed to protect the taxpayer are, or are not, being respected.

Christopher Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and author of the recently-published The Liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information "Criminal".
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