• Obama Space Waste Continues at NASA – Billions Blown Commercial Cargo and Crew Contracts

    One of the Obama Administration’s most duplicative and expensive examples of crony capitalism waste is NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs. Companies that were supposed to cheaply deliver supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under the false narrative of competition to curb costs, have blown up rockets yet only to be compensated for failing to deliver, are years behind schedule, destroyed taxpayer funded payloads without consequence and are twice as expensive as originally promised.

    NASA began funding Commercial Cargo capsule development in 2006 to 2 providers. In 2008, before either company even flew and instead of downselecting to 1 company, NASA awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract for 12 launches and Orbital and $1.9 billion contract for 8 launches. In October 2014 and June 2015, respectively, both Orbital and SpaceX blew up a rockets delivering NASA hundreds of millions of dollars in critical NASA cargo, further delaying their already lagging schedules. Despite these failures, both companies were paid for delivery, and let off the hook without having to pay for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Cargo they destroyed. That bill was sent to the taxpayer.  And in what is one of the worst examples of crony capitalism, Obama’s NASA sole-sourced SpaceX and Orbital 3additional launches each to their original contracts after their failures. NASA then sole-sourced SpaceX an additional 5 launches to their original contract no announcement, and the Obama administration went on to hide it in the 2015 budget request with no competition or justification.

    But it doesn’t stop there. Now keep in mind, the 11 additional launches are enough to keep Cargo going to the ISS well past 2020.  Yet, a few weeks after SpaceX received their extra sole-source missions, NASA awarded 3 new Cargo contracts with a minimum of six launches apiece (yes, 18 more launches) to Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Orbital-ATK – [all which were more expensive than the first round of contracts] and while SpaceX and Orbital had only fulfilled half their contractual obligations and blew the two up. How does NASA justify this dismal performance by noncompetitively sole-sourcing more flights to these providers just weeks before the next competitive awards were announced? And where is the Obama-appointed NASA IG?

    This means NASA now has three companies with 5 multibillion dollar contracts all performing the same service and the fake competition hasn’t saved the taxpayer dime.  NASA has partnerships with Japan and Russia who also deliver Cargo, meaning there are 7 Cargo providers in all. And to top it off, these “cheaper” systems are actually twice the cost per pound of supplies delivered by the now retired space shuttle.

    While this sad story was going on, one equally or more wasteful program is NASA’s space taxi Commercial Crew program which will carry astronauts to the ISS. NASA started development in 2010 with 5 providers and in 2014, downselected to 2 and awarding Boeing a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX a $2.6 billion contract, both for 6 launches apiece, 12 total, to begin launching in 2017.  Both companies are at least 2 years behind schedule and won’t launch until at least 2019.

    After Congress finally forced a partial downselect, Obama’s NASA awarded parallel developments to SpaceX – yet again – and Boeing, while we depend on Russia to fly us to the ISS.  While it is important for the U.S. to fly our own astronauts, it will not be cheaper as these companies can’t price below the Russian cost and the jury is still out on whether they will succeed or pass safety requirements because before the ISS life extensions have elapsed. NASA and Congress have failed the taxpayer in both fiscal and technical and accountability.

    Also, NASA is already building a deep-space capsule which is the backup ISS taxi. We also have an agreement with Russia to get our astronauts to the ISS so this means NASA will have access to four capsules that wastefully and duplicatively perform the same service.  NASA also has an unfunded agreement with Blue Origin working on a 5thcapsule which very well could fly before Boeing and SpaceX.

    Competition may decrease cost but wastefully subsidizing multiple companies does not. How is it cheaper to pay for 3 vs 1 or 2 vs 1? And how has a Republican Congress allowed this to continue? Instead of having a guaranteed capability, the taxpayer will now pay more and more to subsidize multiple cargo and crew capabilities by private companies that will only fly occasionally.

    The real loser in all of this is the taxpayer who is on the hook for what would be in excess of $15 billion. In an agency that consistently breaks new ground on multiple fronts, this massive waste erodes opportunities for new achievements.

    If President Trump and Director Mulvaney are serious about getting rid of duplication and draining the swamp, there’s no better place to start than NASA’s swamp of Cargo and Crew.


    Cloakroom Confidential

    Cloakroom Confidential was a longtime Capitol Hill staffer and insider who has contacts in the House and Senate at the highest levels.

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