Space Florida gave its former board member Courtney Stadd a $25,000 no-bid contract to study the feasibility of building a commercial launch pad at Cape Canaveral, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
The contract was given to Stadd’s consulting firm, Capitol Alliance Solutions of Bethesda, Md., in 2008. This decision was made one year after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist replaced Stadd on the Space Florida board because because he was not a state resident.
Stadd is a former high-ranking NASA official who is under indictment for allegedly steering $9.6 million in NASA funds to a consulting client in Mississippi. Stadd, who maintains his innocence,was not under indictment at the time he did work for Space Florida.
Stadd was involved in a commission that helped to create Space Florida from three other state agencies. He was subsequently appointed to the Space Florida Board of Directors, heading up a committee that chose Steve Kohler as president of the agency.
Officials have defended the contract award, which did not require board approval because it costs less than $100,000:
Space Florida insists that Stadd was qualified to do the launch pad study. And the agency’s then-chief operating officer, Dave Sadlowski, said Stadd himself said the agency needed to decide whether it was appropriate to give him the contract, given his role in the agency’s creation and Kohler’s hiring. “We’ve got to make sure this is right,” he quoted Stadd as saying.
But a spokeswoman for the agency said there were no ethics or conflict-of-interest concerns.
“Due to the fact that Courtney Stadd was no longer on the Space Florida [Board of Directors] when he was provided the sole source contract, there WAS NO conflict of interest to investigate,” spokeswoman Tina Lange said in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel.
Stadd delivered his study in July, recommending that Space Florida pursue the project. However, the report seems to have had a limited impact on how they proceeded, the Sentinel reports:
Space Florida also ignored several of Stadd’s recommendations, including that it develop “a credible and defensible cost estimate” for the pad and to make sure it had a commitment from at least one major rocket manufacturer interested in using the facility.
The project has become mired in political controversy, with critics saying that it has neither an overall master plan nor any commitments from commercial operators.
Space Florida President Kohler has come under fire for his handling of the launch pad project and the awarding of no-bid contracts for lobbying and a space tourism program at the Andrews Institute. A former state official, Brice Harris, resigned as the director of the Andrew Institute project after it was revealed that he had helped to negotiate the deal as a public employee.