I haven’t had a chance to review the NASA-related language in the omnibus appropriations bill currently being considered by Congress, but Space News [subscription required] has found a provision that would effectively place the ongoing COTS selection process on hold, perhaps for months:
“[T]he Appropriations Committees note that one of the two COTS contracts is currently in dispute, and are concerned by NASA’s recent decision to re-compete the disputed contract before all challenges have been resolved,” the report language states. “In doing so, NASA could potentially create a liability to fund three proposals instead of two as originally envisioned, increasing the costs of this program to the taxpayers. Therefore, NASA is directed not to select a new contractor until all challenges are decided. Further, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is directed to perform a full review of COTS program expenditures and management.”
(I suspect some at NASA are cringing at the use of “contracts” and “contractor” above since they have emphasized on many occasions that COTS is run as a set of Space Act agreements awarded to companies outside of the usual federal acquisition regulations; that flexibility would seem to provide ways for NASA to get around any concerns expressed in the conference report excerpt above.) The article also notes that the bill cuts the funding for COTS in FY08 by roughly a third, from the requested $236 million down to $160 million, which could have a bigger influence on the selection process that the delay.