A detailed government audit found that NASA went out of its way to overpay Boeing for its commercial team launch astronauts (CCP) services, mocking its fixed-price contract with the company and apparently messing up SpaceX throughout the process  A step further, not only did NASA not try to give SpaceX an option to offer their own solution, they didn't even notify SpaceX before arbitrarily changing Boeing's requirements. Overall, Boeing already received $ 5.1B to complete the same job, SpaceX received $ 3.1B for. pic.twitter.com/vm1v4I1Pzc
– Eric Ralph (@ 13ericralph31) November 14, 2019
In the last few years, NASA's Inspector General has published a number of increasingly discouraging reports on these reports. NASA contractor behavior and success, and the Nov. 14 report is probably the most worrying so far. On November 14, the Office of the NASA Inspector General (OIG) published an enchanting audit entitled "Management of NASA Crew Transportation to the International Space Station [ISS]" (PDF).
Offering over 50 pages of detailed behavior analysis, which at best was inept and at worst deeply corrupt, OIG's analysis revealed some embarrassing revelations about NASA's relationship with Boeing in a different realm than usual: The Commercial Program NASA teams (CCP). Launched in 2010 in an attempt to develop a number of redundant trade alternatives to Space Shuttle prematurely canceled before the US alternative was even on the horizon, CCP eventually awarded SpaceX and Boeing major development contracts in September 2014.
NASA has awarded fixed-value contracts of $ 4.2 billion and $ 2.6 billion, respectively, to Boeing and SpaceX to achieve the same goals: design, build, test, and fly new spacecraft capable of transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The intent behind the fixed-price contracts was to hold contractors responsible for the delays that could occur when developing human-rated spacecraft, a task that NASA found challenging, but far from unprecedented.
Outside the rails
The most likely trigger of the bizarre events that would unfold for several years along the way began in part on June 28, 2015 and culminated on September 1, 2016, the dates of the two catastrophic crashes. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket suffered from its debut in 2010. In the most generous interpretation possible of the OIG's findings, NASA's headquarters and CCP managers may have been shaken and not even thought of keel after SpaceX's second major failure in a while. more than a year.
Under this stress, the agency may have neglected common sense and a major concern for voluntary improvement, which forced "numerous employees" to abandon a plan that would undermine the fixed-price Boeing contract, paying the company an additional $ 287 million ( ~ 7%) to prevent a noticeable difference in space from NASA's access to the ISS. This probably came about because NASA briefly believed that SpaceX failures could cause many years of delays, making Boeing the only available carrier carrier for a significant amount of time. Starliner has already been delayed by more than a year, making it less likely Boeing alone to be able to provide NASA with continuous access to the ISS.
As NASA argues in its experience of responding and protecting the audit, "The Final Price [increase] was approved by NASA and Boeing and reviewed and approved by numerous NASA personnel at the Kennedy Space Center and Headquarters." In the heat of the moment, perhaps those employees forgot that Boeing had already purchased several Soyuz Russian sites to sell to NASA or tourists, and perhaps those employees missed the simple fact that those places and some elementary changes to the schedule could almost entirely alleviate the perceived "Access Gap" with minimal cost and effort.
The OIG audit further suggested that the timing of the Boeing proposal – submitted only days after NASA agreed to pay
"Five days after NASA committed to pay a price increase of $ 287.2 million for four sales crews, Boeing officially presented a proposal to sell NASA to five Union locations for $ 373.5 million during the same time period. In total, Boeing received $ 660.7 million over the fixed prices set in CCtCap's pricing charts to pay for an accelerated production schedule for four crew missions and five Union locations. "
NASA OIG – November 14, 2019 [PDF]
In other words, NASA staff somehow failed to realize or remember that Boeing owned many Union locations during" lengthy negotiations' (p. 24) with Boeing and subsequently awards Boeing with an additional $ 287M to accelerate Starliner production and preparation, thus preventing access gaps. As early as next week, Boeing asked NASA if he wanted to buy five Union sites he had already acquired to send NASA astronauts to the ISS.
Needless to say, this sequence of events has exactly three explanations, none of which is discouraging.
- Boeing deliberately denies an apparent (partial) solution to the perceived gap in astronauts' access to the ISS, using NASA panic to derive a ~ 7% premium from its otherwise fixed-price Starliner development contract.
- By gross negligence and lack of thorough diligence in negotiating, NASA neglected obvious (and cheaper) possible solutions at hand, taking Boeing's word for granted and opening the treasury.
- The Pharisee's "crew access analysis" study ignores many obvious and preferred solutions to give "numerous NASA employees" an excuse to violate fixed-price bargaining principles and pay Boeing a significant premium.
Blackmailing with a Friendly Smile
The last explanation, albeit the worst and most loaded , is perhaps the most likely choice based on NASA's history of Boeing's relationship. In fact, a July 2019 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that NASA is constantly paying Boeing $ 100 million in "award fees" as part of the SLS booster (milestone) production agreement, which is at least four years behind schedule and $ 1.8 billion over budget. From 2014 to 2018, NASA awarded a total of $ 271 million in award fees to Boeing, which means awarding the contractor excellent results.
In several of these years, NASA reviews described Boeing's performance as "good," "very good," and "excellent," while Boeing repeatedly ignited the production of major stage SLS, adding years delays to debuts of the SLS rocket. This means that "numerous NASA employees" were also more likely to enjoy hundreds of millions of dollars in Boeing awards, even as the company did, and there is clearly a big reason why the SLS program continues to fail.
In the end, although NASA's concern about SpaceX's faults back to Falcon 9's back and some combinations of incompetence, ignorance and corruption seem to play a role, the fact remains that NASA – according to the Inspector General – never turned to SpaceX as part of their 2016/2017 effort to prevent "crew access leaks". Given that the CCP has two partners, this decision was grossly incorrect, regardless of the circumstances, and is even more inexplicable than NASA clearly knowing that SpaceX's Crew Dragon had significantly shorter lead times and costing much less than Starliner.
That would mean that if NASA turned to SpaceX to try to mitigate the gap in access, SpaceX could almost certainly have made it significantly cheaper and faster, or at least put some fair competition into the endeavor .
Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, NASA OIG investigators were told by "several NASA employees" that – despite several preferred alternatives – they ultimately chose to abandon the sought-after Boeing price hike because they were worried Boeing would left the Commercial Teams Program entirely without it. Boeing and NASA surprisingly denied this in their official OIG audit responses, but the US Government Inspector General will never post without significant notice such a request.
According to OIG sources, "CCP senior officials believe that for financial reasons, Boeing cannot continue as a commercial crew supplier unless the contractor receives higher prices." Much remains unpaid as to why these officials believe that the complete withdrawal of Boeing from CCP is a serious risk, and how they came to this conclusion is sufficient to make it impossible to conclude that Boeing actually threatened to opt out of NASA's payments.
All things considered, these comparatively damn discoveries should by no means take the excellent work that Boeing engineers and technicians are trying to do to design, build and launch Starliner. However, they serve to draw a fine line between the attitudes and motivations of Boeing and SpaceX. One puts profit, shareholders and itself above all else, while the other tries hard to reduce the cost of a space flight and to enable a sustainable human presence on the Moon, Mars and beyond.
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