A former senior NASA official violated procurement regulations in his dealings with Boeing out of fear the company could delay the Trump Administration’s plan to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, The Washington Post reports.
The Post reports that NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration Doug Loverro reached out to Boeing Senior Vice President Jim Chilton in February to tell the company it would not win a study contract for the Human Landing System, a vehicle that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The call came at a time when NASA was not to contact any of the bidders.
Loverro, who abruptly resigned in May, wanted to find out if Boeing planned to protest its loss. If so, NASA would need to issue stop work orders to the winning bidders until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on the protest. GAO reviews usually take months.
The Post reports:
That call, which occurred during a period when the agency was to have no contact with any of the bidders, is now the subject of investigations by the NASA inspector general and the Justice Department into the integrity of the procurement, according to multiple people. It also led NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to force Loverro to abruptly resign in May.
Boeing did not protest the award of the lunar lander contract — which was awarded on April 30 to three bidders for a total of nearly $1 billion: a team led by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin; the defense contractor Dynetics; and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But it did something that NASA officials found just as alarming: After Loverro told Chilton that Boeing would not win the award, the company attempted to revise and resubmit its bid. That last-ditch effort to win one of the contracts was so unusual, given that the time for bids had passed, that members of the NASA committee considering the award feared it may amount to a violation of procurement regulations. They alerted the agency’s inspector general, who in turn referred the matter to the Justice Department. The U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia has impaneled a grand jury and is investigating, officials said.…
It’s unclear who else at NASA knew about the conversation between Loverro and Chilton, or whether anyone directed Loverro to ask Boeing whether it would protest.
The outgoing Trump Administration has made landing astronauts on the moon by 2024 under the Artemis program the top priority for NASA. In Marcy 2019, the administration moved up the target date for the landing from 2028.