Congress, NASA IG Assessing NASA's Use of Space Act Agreements

Congress, NASA IG Assessing NASA's Use of Space Act Agreements

NASA’s use of Space Act Agreements (SAAs) is coming under scrutiny both by Congress and by NASA Inspector General (IG) Paul Martin.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA, released two letters today that he sent to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden inquiring about the agency’s use of SAAs.  The first was sent in January requesting a list of all foreign and domestic SAAs.  The second was sent today alerting Bolden that more questions will be forthcoming about some of them.  Wolf asked NASA to share all the information with the chair of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).  

House SS&T is NASA’s authorizing committee, which sets policy and recommends funding levels.  Wolf’s committee is the one that actually gives the money to NASA (and other agencies under its jurisdiction) in conjunction with its Senate counterpart.

NASA was given authority to use Space Act Agreements, also called “other transaction authority,” in the law that created the agency in 1958.  SAAs have garnered a lot of attention since NASA began using them for its commercial cargo and commercial crew programs.  Under those SAAs, companies are paid only when they meet agreed-upon milestones, but the government has less insight into what they are doing than with traditional contracts executed under Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). 

However, Wolf’s interest does not seem to stem from that application of the agreements.

Wolf’s January 14 letter refers to a discussion between his staff and NASA where NASA reported it had “more than ‘550 active international agreements with 120 nations on a wide range of activities. … There is no publicly available list of all such current or pending international Space Act Agreements…’  My staff was also informed that NASA maintains no public list of domestic SAAs.”  Wolf states that he is concerned that NASA may be sharing “sensitive technologies” with foreign governments that “may not share our national interests in space” through the SAAs.

The February 26 letter thanks Bolden for providing the list of all the foreign and domestic SAAs adding that Wolf was “struck by the broad scope of the agreements … as well as the unusual nature of some of [them].” 

Wolf also praises NASA IG Martin for beginning an “overdue” audit of SAAs as well.  Martin’s office tweeted (@NASAOIG) yesterday that it is starting an “audit evaluating NASA’s management of its Space Act Agreements.”  No further details are on the OIG website yet.

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