IG Criticizes NASA’s Decision to Allow SpaceX, Orbital ATK to Conduct Own Accident Investigations

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Inspector General (OIG) has criticized the agency’s practice of allowing SpaceX and Orbital ATK to lead investigations into their own launch failures involving commercial cargo ships, citing a lack of independence and the potential for serious conflicts of interest.

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Senators to NASA: Clean Up Waste in SBIR Program, Build Our Hideously Expensive HLV

The NASA OIG report that found waste and abuse in the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has prompted a quick response from the Senate.

Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, issued a statement demanding the space agency to clean up its act to avoid wasting millions of dollars.

“This audit is especially timely since Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the SBIR and STTR programs,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “While this report focuses on just one federal agency, the Committee’s 2009 investigation found that SBIR and STTR programs administered by other federal agencies are also vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse. Senator Snowe and I worked hard to include strong anti-fraud language in the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2010 because we cannot – and will not – tolerate wasteful government spending. I will fight to pass this legislation as soon as possible in the 112th Congress.” [Emphasis added]

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NASA OIG Finds Serious Problems With SBIR Program

The NASA Office of Inspector General’s audit of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program has turned up a number of problems, including millions of dollars of unallowed expenses by contractors and weak fraud detection and prevention controls.

Results

Our review found that while NASA’s initial choice of SBIR award recipients appeared objective and merit-based, its oversight and monitoring of awards was deficient. Specifically, SBIR awards in 2008 contained an estimated $2.7 million in unallowable and unsupportable costs, including travel and equipment expenses. In addition, we found that NASA officials lacked adequate procedures to ensure SBIR applicants’ past performance had been considered when selecting recipients of approximately $85.7 million in “Phase 2” SBIR funds. Federal acquisition rules require consideration of past performance. Finally, NASA has not implemented appropriate internal controls to prevent fraud and abuse in contract awards. Consequently, some SBIR award recipients may have received multiple SBIR awards from different Federal agencies for the same research or NASA may have received highly questionable research products for its contract money.

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NASA IG’s Letter on Constellation Funding

The NASA Office of Inspector General sent a letter to Congress today that lays out the issues facing the space agency as it continues to operate under its 2010 budget. Some key excerpts follow, with the full letter reproduced after the break:

We write this letter to highlight a situation at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that we believe requires immediate action by Congress. Due to restrictive language in NASA’s fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriation,2 coupled with the fact that NASA and the rest of the Federal Government are currently being funded by a continuing resolution (CR) that carries over these restrictions and prohibits initiation of new projects, NASA is continuing to spend approximately $200 million each month on the Constellation Program, aspects of which both NASA and Congress have agreed not to build. Without congressional intervention, by the end of February 2011 NASA anticipates spending up to $215 million on Constellation projects that, absent the restrictive appropriations language, it would have considered canceling or significantly scaling back. Moreover, by the end of FY 2011 that figure could grow to more than $575 million if NASA is required to continue operating under the current constraints and is unable to move beyond the planning stages for its new Space Exploration program….

In sum, it appears that NASA has taken steps to concentrate its spending on those aspects of the Constellation Program it believes may have future applicability, and that these efforts have helped reduce the potential inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. However, based on what we have learned from Agency officials, as NASA moves closer to making final decisions regarding how best to move forward in designing and building the next generation space system, it will become increasingly more difficult for the Agency to continue to juggle the inconsistent mandates of the Authorization Act and the appropriations legislation so as to avoid wasting taxpayer funds. As one senior NASA official described it, “There’s a point coming up soon where we would just be spending money to spend money.”

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NASA OIG to Congress: Here’s What Your CR is Costing Taxpayers

Source: Constellation Program Managers

* NASA officials noted that even if they had complete freedom to stop spending on these aspects of the Constellation Program, they still would need to expend some amount of money for infrastructure and personnel costs to maintain program readiness. The officials did not provide a breakdown of these costs.


The NASA Office of Inspector General sent a letter to Congress today outlining how the space agency must spend money on programs it is canceling due to the inability of the legislature to pass a budget on time. NASA is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) until Congress passes its appropriations bill in March.

OIG Investigating Bolden Over Role in NASA Biofuel Program

NASA boss investigated for possible conflict of interest on biofuel project
Charlie Bolden asked Marathon Oil for its opinion on Project OMEGA — but he has financial interest in Marathon, which has a competing project
Orlando Sentinel

While millions of barrels of spilled oil choke the Gulf of Mexico, NASA is working on an ocean-based biofuels venture that could revolutionize clean-energy production at sea and treat wastewater at the same time.

The scientist running the $10 million experiment, called Project OMEGA, uses words such as groundbreaking and exciting to describe his baby. But there’s a hitch.

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