GAO: NASA Acted Legally in Constellation Actions

The Government Accountability Office has issued a report saying that NASA acted legally in its efforts on the Constellation lunar program. Congressional appropriators had called for investigation, saying that the Administration was illegally attempting to shut down the program in violation of a law requiring Congressional approval.

“CONCLUSION – NASA’s actions to date with regard to the Constellation program have not violated either the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 or the provision in the fiscal year 2010 Exploration appropriation that bars NASA from terminating or eliminating any PPAs of the architecture for the Constellation program.”

National Aeronautics and Space Administration–Constellation Program and Appropriations Restrictions, Part II
Government Accountability Office

Summary

This opinion is GAO’s second in response to a March 12, 2010 letter requesting GAO’s views on several matters related to NASA and its Constellation program. GAO’s earlier opinion, B-319488, May 21, 2010, found that NASA has not violated a restriction in NASA’s fiscal year 2010 Exploration appropriation on the use of Exploration funds to “create or initiate a new program, project or activity.” In this opinion, we responded to questions regarding whether NASA has obligated Exploration appropriations in a manner consistent with the Impoundment Control Act and whether NASA complied with a restriction in the fiscal year 2010 Exploration appropriation that bars NASA from using the Exploration appropriation for the “termination or elimination of any program, project or activity” of the Constellation program. GAO found that NASA has not violated the Impoundment Control Act or the provision in the Exploration appropriation concerning termination or elimination of a Constellation program, project, or activity.

Under the Impoundment Control Act, government officers must make budget authority available for obligation and expenditure unless the President follows procedures set forth in the Act. GAO found that, to date, NASA has not withheld Exploration funds from obligation and has obligated the funds at rates comparable to the rates of obligation in years in which NASA obligated nearly all available Exploration funds. GAO also found that NASA has not violated the provision in the Exploration appropriation that bars NASA from using the Exploration appropriation for the “termination or elimination of any program, project, or activity” of the Constellation program. A “Program, Project, or Activity (PPA)” is an element within a budget account. For annually appropriated accounts, the Office of Management and Budget and agencies identify PPAs by reference to committee reports and budget justifications. NASA’s fiscal year 2010 budget request lists five PPAs within the “Constellation Systems” category. NASA has continued to obligate Exploration funds to all five PPAs in amounts consistent with the allocations given in congressional committee reports and NASA’s public budget documents.

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