Dodd: Make Spacesuit Competition Fair

U.S. Senator Chris Dodd has weighed in on the NASA next generation spacesuit controversy on behalf of a company from his home state of Connecticut.

Hamilton Sundstrand – which has been making U.S. spacesuits for 40 years – recently lost the contract to Texas-based Oceaneering. NASA subsequently voided the contract after Hamilton Sundstrand filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office and the NASA Inspector General’s Office raised concerns about the fairness of the bidding process.

“As NASA begins a new space suit competition, it is important that we get it right this time,” said Dodd.  “The people who know space-suits best— the Hamilton Sundstrand workers who have been making them since the early years of the Apollo program – should get the fair shot that they deserve.  I will remain vigilant in working to ensure that NASA executes an unbiased competition.  At the end of the day, I am convinced that Hamilton Sundstrand can win this competition fair and square and will continue manufacturing the suits that protect America’s astronauts for years to come.”

The text of Dodd’s letter is reproduced below:

Dear Administrator Griffin:

I am writing to express concern regarding the recent competition for the new Constellation Space Suit System (CSSS) for astronauts aboard the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

I have been informed that after selecting a new suit manufacturer on June 12, 2008, NASA almost immediately began negotiating a contract.  It is my understanding that, according to protocol, NASA should have first fully briefed all contractor teams that competed for the contract selection.  Indeed, it is my understanding that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) protest was filed simply because this process was left largely incomplete.  However, thirty days after the GAO protest was filed, NASA cancelled the contract, and announced that it would take corrective action regarding CSSS procurement decisions.  In light of these discrepancies, I respectfully request that NASA take every step possible to ensure continued fairness in the CSSS acquisition process.  In doing so, I  hope that your agency would refrain from modifying the Request for Proposal (RFP) in a way that would somehow bias the competition toward one contractor team over the other.

Furthermore, I have recently learned that during an audit of the acquisition planning for the CSSS, NASA’s Inspector General found several issues of concern.  First, the request for proposal did not include or reference the Earned Value Management clause that is required by NASA acquisition regulations.  Second, and more troubling, we note with concern that the Inspector General identified a potential conflict of interest concerning a least one member of the CSSS standing review board.

I know that you share my goal of providing our astronauts with the safest, most durable, and most capable equipment possible to fulfill their critically important missions.  It is my belief that this can be accomplished through the procurement of quality, well-priced products.  I therefore urge NASA to review its evaluation process and make certain that any corrective actions taken ensure a truly fair competition and fully address the serious concerns raised by the Inspector General.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  I look forward to working with you on NASA’s space programs.  Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.