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Justice Department investigates NASA call to Boeing over lost lunar launch offer

So in February, Doug Lovero, then head of NASA’s human research department, called Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division, to explain that the company would lose the contract and ask if it would challenge. according to two people who know the situation.

The call, which came at a time when the agency was not supposed to contact any of the bidders, is now being investigated by the NASA inspector general and the Department of Justice over the integrity of the contract, according to many people. It also prompted NASA Administrator Jim Braidstein to force Loverro to resign abruptly in May.

Boeing is not protesting the award of the lunar landing contract ̵

1; which was awarded on April 30 to three bidders for a total of nearly $ 1 billion: a team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin; defense contractor Dynetics; and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. (Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)

But it did something NASA officials found equally alarming: After Loverro told Chilton that Boeing would not win the award, the company tried to reconsider and resubmit its offer. This latest effort to win one of the contracts was so unusual, given that the bidding time has expired, that NASA commission members considering the award fear it could violate public procurement rules. orders. They alerted the inspector general of the agency, who in turn took the matter to the Ministry of Justice. The U.S. Attorney General in the District of Columbia has beaten a grand jury and is investigating, officials said.

Earlier, The Post reported that Boeing had tried to reconsider its offer after the call between Loverro and Chilton, but this is the first time the essence of their conversation has been announced.

It is unclear who else at NASA knew about the conversation between Loverro and Chilton, or whether anyone directed Loverro to ask Boeing if he would protest.

In his resignation letter, Loverro wrote that he had “taken a risk earlier in the year because I felt the need to fulfill our mission.” Now, after the balance of time, it is clear that I have made a mistake in this choice, for which only I have to bear the consequences. “

In a spring interview, Loverro said he was trying to speed up NASA’s lunar program, known as Artemis, as many already doubted whether NASA could meet the White House’s new 2024 deadline. “It had to do with Artemis’ rapid movement, and I don’t want to describe it in more detail,” he said. Loverro was an adviser to the selection committee, but there was no last word on the awards.

Loverro would not comment on the recording for this article. Boeing declined to comment.

NASA cited a previous statement that the order for the lunar spacecraft, known as the Human Landing System (HLS), had been processed correctly and was continuing with the program. “The agency is confident in the integrity of public procurement for HLS,” she said. “Mr Loverro was not a selection officer and his resignation has no bearing on the implementation of these HLS contracts.”

Usually, breaches of the Public Procurement Integrity Act are situations in which contractors receive inside information that they use to their advantage to win a contract. In this case, Boeing has not yet won the contract – its revised bid arrived well after the submission deadline – but “there are rules and processes that should not be taken lightly,” said Scott Amei, general adviser to the Government Oversight Project. , observation group.

“Boeing needed to know better,” he said. “If they try to use this information to reconsider their offer, they may also be involved in a breach of the Public Procurement Law because they are trying to use it to their advantage.”

The loss of the lunar landing contract was another embarrassment for Boeing, a NASA partner since the dawn of the space age. The company was once so trusted that NASA initially gave Boeing only a limited overview of its safety culture, while forcing rival SpaceX to undergo a full audit after Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, hit marijuana in a podcast. broadcast on the Internet.

But late last year, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft suffered a number of software problems during a test flight without astronauts on board, forcing the company to repeat the mission. It also sparked the fatal crashes of two 737 Max planes that killed a total of 346 people.

His collision with the lunar landing contract opened the door for other companies. A team led by Blue Origin, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, won an initial $ 579 million contract. Dynetics, which merged with Sierra Nevada Corp., received $ 253 million and SpaceX won $ 135 million.

In addition to Boeing, another company, Vivace Corp. from San Antonio, was eliminated at the beginning of the source selection process, according to NASA’s source selection document. But it is not said why the companies’ bids were rejected. Vivace did not respond to requests for comment.

Last month, the agency said all three profitable companies had completed a key phase that established projects, schedules and plans to be certified by NASA for space travel.

The agency said it plans to select two of the cars in the coming months to continue its development.

Spencer Hsu contributed to this report.

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