Congress, NASA

NASA IG to Congress: stop making us waste money

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.

14 comments to NASA IG to Congress: stop making us waste money

  • amightywind

    The inspector general’s job is to review NASA’s performance versus its funding, not to gainsay the will of the congress. The committee chair’s should turn this fool out to the street. NASA management needs to learn who is boss.

  • Justin Kugler

    The IG is doing his job. You need to learn that the cornerstone of good management is honesty with your stakeholders.

  • Ares 1 upper stage is still funded? How can that be? Work has stopped and many of the people laid off and long gone. Designs have been turned in. Nothing is going on.

    Maybe it’s “funded,” but no one is spending it.

  • Aremis Asling

    “The inspector general’s job is to review NASA’s performance versus its funding, not to gainsay the will of the congress.”

    Really, It would seem to me from the very law that created his position that that is one of his core responsibilities:—-000-.html

    US Code Title 5 Appendix – Inspector General Act of 1978

    Section 2 Purpose and establishment of Offices of Inspector General; departments and agencies involved

    In order to create independent and objective units—
    (1) to conduct and supervise audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations of the establishments listed in section 11 (2);
    (2) to provide leadership and coordination and recommend policies for activities designed
    (A) to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the administration of, and
    (B) to prevent and detect fraud and abuse in, such programs and operations; and
    (3) to provide a means for keeping the head of the establishment and the Congress fully and currently informed about problems and deficiencies relating to the administration of such programs and operations and the necessity for and progress of corrective action;

    Given that the authorization bill distinctly defines what direction congress is authorized to take, legally speaking, and given congress’ insistance that NASA follow said law to the letter, and given that NASA has been interrogated in front of congress regarding their ability to follow said budget authorization, it would seem to me that the IG’s actions are not only appropriate, but necessary under both the 1978 Act AND the 2011 Authorization.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Spase Blagher,

    Apparently, there is a lot of paper shuffling and time-wasting going on to spend the budget as they aren’t allowed to do anything else. Millions, weekly, are simply being frittered away by project teams sitting on their @$$es, waiting for headquarters to be allowed to let them work without being subject to federal prosecution.

    FWIW, I think that this is actually a more important issue than the HLV report pass-back. NASA is essentially leaking cash everywhere due to this ill-conceived attempt on Shelby’s part to protect Ares-I when it became clear it was executable. The sooner that it is repealed, the sooner that this money can be spent on something that can fly with a modicum of safety.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Tsk! Sorry, I meant “… when it became clear it [Ares-I] was unexecutable.”

    No excuses, I’m afraid. This is what you get when you attempt to post and eat breakfast at the same time.

  • Aremis Asling

    “NASA is essentially leaking cash everywhere due to this ill-conceived attempt on Shelby’s part to protect Ares-I when it became clear it was executable”

    To be fair to Shelby, he put that restriction in place at a time when no alternatives had yet been proposed and the extent to which Obama was to retool NASA’s direction was rumored, but unknown. But aside from some very brief hollering immediately after the CR was passed, little has been said about this provision outside of interested circles, ie us. That’s the real crime. This went from minor legislative gaffe to wasteful blunder on October 1st of 2010.

    What I don’t understand is why we don’t hear anything about it. This is about the lowest-hanging fruit out there and just ripe for scoring a few fiscal conservative gold stars for any member of congress ready to take it. Perhaps once the Giffords freeze is off of congress and Health Care Bill grandstanding is over we’ll see some action on this.

  • Citizens Against Government Waste came out against it today. It is starting to get media attention.

  • Coastal Ron

    When they start shooting the messengers, you know they’re trying to hide something. In this case it’s a desire to spend money, not to build something of value.

    I look forward to the Congressional hearings on this, since Bolden doesn’t have to do much in defense of the SLS because it’s a re-hash of the Ares V. All he has to do is explain why the approach Congress wants is going to be larger/longer than they want, and let the economic forces (budget cuts & industry competition) slowly crush the HLV pork hopes of Nelson, Vitter, Hutchison, Shelby, et al.

  • Das Boese

    Coastal Ron wrote @ January 14th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Re: congressional hearings, I wonder if they’ll summon Garver instead? I get the impression that there’s a lot more dislike for her than for Bolden. Plus, I guess, some of the representatives more overtly hostile to Obama’s administration may be more at ease to engage a woman bureaucrat than a retired general and former astronaut.
    (Forgive the long-winded phrasing, I tried hard to avoid using the word “target” which I feel is probably a tad inappropriate at the current time)

  • Coastal Ron

    Das Boese wrote @ January 14th, 2011 at 7:34 pm “I
    wonder if they’ll summon Garver instead?
    ” Typically they
    summon whoever can make their (the inquisitors) case better.
    Although it will be hard for them to summon Garver and not Bolden,
    I think Gaver has shown the ability to stay on message better.
    Nevertheless, I look forward to Bolden testifying, and providing a
    good explanation for what can and can’t be done within the budget
    and the restrictions of the crazy authorization act specifics –
    which will infuriate those that want pork spending without

  • Brevard County Pilot

    Hilarious. This is in perfect keeping with the mindset that went with killing Constellation in the first place. Kill the program, but keep spending money. In fact, spend more money! The IG is right to point this out. Wait and see if this guy doesn’t get the axe from his bosses.

  • anesha

    We should stop funding NASA because we are wasting money on it.22222222222

  • Nibblet jibber jahonkie

    Hi :D I hate you all! And my name. Have a great day!

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