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Major Tom to Ground Control: ‘Your grant oversight is poor’

NASA lacks adequate controls to ensure proper administration and management of its grants, according to a report from the agency’s Inspector General (IG) released on 12 September.

The IG said that grants awarded by the NASA centres did not receive independent oversight from the agency’s Shared Services Center and were not otherwise subject to controls sufficient to validate the accuracy of the award instrument or appropriateness of the award.

In terms of specific weaknesses in oversight of grants, the report concluded that NASA awarded grants in lieu of contracts, contrary to federal and NASA rules. It also awarded unauthorised and unallowable grant supplements contrary to its own regulations and those of the federal government.

The IG found that NASA grant officers at two centres awarded $7.3 million in grants and grant supplements—43 per cent of its sample—contrary to NASA requirements on unsolicited proposals.

In particular, grant officers at Goddard Space Flight Center improperly awarded 12 grant supplements totalling $1.3m to one grantee, and a grant officer at Glenn Research Center improperly awarded $6m for two education grants and 19 supplements to another grantee: in both cases, proposals for the work should have been solicited from the public.

“In the 20 years since the original grants were awarded to these two grantees, grant officers at Goddard and Glenn have routinely awarded related grants and grant supplements worth several million dollars to these two grantees for unsolicited proposals for work that was not new, unique, or innovative,” the report said.

Those centre officials had direct involvement with the grantees before the proposals were submitted, awarded grant supplements that were outside the scope of the original grant, and awarded grant supplements when a new grant should have been awarded. The two centres circumvented the competitive process and could not be sure that they received the best value for NASA’s money, the IG warned.

“The nature of the control weaknesses identified lead us to believe our findings reflect systemic deficiencies in the administration and management of NASA’s grant program,” the report concluded.

To address these deficiencies, the IG recommended that NASA should remedy over $6,000 in unauthorised costs for the purchase of unapproved equipment, and should also return to the Space Grant Program the nearly $300,000 in unallowable costs for funds used for other than Space Grant purposes.