DOD IG Exonerates DOD in Assertions Made by Former ULA Official

DOD IG Exonerates DOD in Assertions Made by Former ULA Official

The Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General (IG) issued his report on the investigation into assertions by a former United Launch Alliance (ULA) executive that, among other things, implied that DOD had tried to slant an acquisition towards ULA.  The IG concluded there was no wrong doing on the part of DOD. 

The IG is appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate in accordance with the Inspector General Act of 1978.  Glenn Fine is DOD’s Acting IG.

In March 2016, Brett Tobey, then ULA’s Engineering Vice President, spoke to a group of students at the University of Colorado-Boulder.  He made a number of frank statements about ULA’s competition with SpaceX and the competition between Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne on building an engine for ULA’s new Vulcan rocket.  ULA President Tory Bruno disavowed the statements and Tobey resigned. 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), however, demanded an investigation into whether Tobey’s statements had substance.

One statement in particular that raised eyebrows was that the Air Force had tilted a launch service solicitation in ULA’s direction and was upset that ULA subsequently decided not to bid on that contract (for a GPS III launch).   The implication was that the government acquisition process was not being followed appropriately.  Other statements concerned the long-running debate over how many Russian RD-180 engines ULA would be allowed to obtain for its Atlas V rockets, a topic on which McCain had strong views.  (It since has been resolved.)

In its December 8 report, the DOD IG concluded there was no wrongdoing on the part of DOD. 

It investigated four of Tobey’s assertions:

  • that McCain had said ULA was “hiding five RD-180s” to transfer them from national security space (NSS) to commercial launches to influence legislation;
  • that DOD gave an unfair advantage to ULA in awarding launch service contracts;
  • that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USA/ATL), and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lockheed Martin, had a conversation on how to “silence” McCain on the RD-180 issue; and
  • that DOD was “unhappy” that ULA did not bid on the GPS III launch because it had given ULA an advantage over other contractors.

The IG noted that Tobey “recanted” these assertions during its investigation and “characterized [them] as postulation.”   It quotes Tobey as saying “The tone of my presentation was that of more of an op-ed than even a rational argument or article” and that because it was a student audience, he decided to provide “drama” and “got into an excessively casual tone of discussion with them.”  He did not know his remarks were being recorded and would “go viral” and be “quoted in sound bites that make them very damaging to ULA.  And for that, I’m very sorry.”

After a 7-month investigation, the IG said it found no evidence that ULA improperly transferred rocket engines from NSS to commercial launches, that DOD gave an unfair advantage to ULA over competitors, or that the USD/ATL and the Lockheed Martin CEO had a conversation about silencing McCain.  It also found that DOD awarded contracts to ULA “in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations.”

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