In an unusual move, NASA’s Inspector General (IG) has sent letters to key members of Congress, requesting that they take “immediate action” to remove legislative language that the IG concludes is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars. In letters to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee and the chair and ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, NASA IG Paul Martin said that a provision in the FY2010 appropriations act that has carried over to the series of continuing resolutions funding NASA into FY2011 requires NASA to spend millions of dollars a month on Constellation programs that the agency would otherwise cancel, given the guidance in the NASA authorization act passed last fall.
“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,” Martin writes in the letters. That’s a fraction of the roughly $200 million a month NASA is spending on Constellation, because some of the Constellation projects—in particular work on five-segment solid rocket motors, the J-2X upper-stage engine, and virtually all of Orion—would likely be continued to support the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. However, the Ares 1 upper stage and related avionics work remain funded even though officials said “they likely would have considered canceling these contracts” absent the existing prohibition on such terminations. Also cited as projects being funded now that might otherwise not be: “ground operations”, such as work at the Kennedy Space Center; mission operations projects; and program integration work. Combined, those projects spent $71 million in the first two months of FY11, and are projected to spend a total of $215 million by the end of February. Should the provision remain in place through the entire fiscal year, the total would reach $577 million.
Martin stated in the letters that NASA has taken steps to concentrate Constellation funding on efforts “it believes may have future applicability”, but that will be more difficult to do as time goes on and the agency needs to make decisions on the design of the Space Launch System and related programs. “As one senior NASA official described it, ‘There’s a point coming up soon where we would just be spending money to spend money,’” the letter states.