NASA OIG: NASA's Constellation Standing Review Boards Established Without Due Regard for Member Independence Requirements


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The Issue

NASA established Standing Review Boards (SRBs) to ensure certain Agency projects are reviewed by groups of uniquely qualified experts who can provide, essentially, quality control reviews throughout the project's life cycles. Agency directives require that SRB members be independent of the program or project they review (i.e., unbiased and outside the advocacy chain of the program or project) to ensure that the SRB can provide an impartial, unbiased opinion of the program or project's potential success. This report addresses the SRBs for the Constellation Program (CxP) and the CxP projects. Our objective was to determine the independence of the members of those SRBs.

This report follows up on and expands the scope of our April 2008 report concerning independence and conflict-of-interest issues involving the SRB for CxP's Orion Project. In that report, we state that NASA did not establish the Orion SRB in accordance with Federal law or NASA guidance. The Orion SRB met the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) definition of an advisory committee. Although advisory committees meeting this definition must be established in accordance with FACA and NASA Policy Directive (NPD) 1150.11, "Federal Advisory Committee Act Committees," September 22, 2004, the Orion SRB was not. Had NASA initially recognized the Orion SRB as an advisory committee subject to FACA, NASA's ethics process associated with advisory committee participation would have been triggered, resulting in a focus on board member independence and conflict of interest resolution. We found that 6 of the Orion SRB's 19 members were not fully independent of the Orion Project, as required by NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7120.5D, "NASA Space Flight Program and Project Management Requirements," March 6, 2007. All 6 were employees of companies having contracts for Orion work and 4 of the 6 were also stockholders. In addition to the Orion SRB, NASA initiated SRBs for the Constellation Program itself and CxP's other projects:

Results

We found 21 SRB members--close to one-third of all non-Federal CxP SRB members-- with conflicts of interest and determined that each of the SRBs for CxP and its constituent Projects included at least one non-Federal Government employee who was conflicted. Specifically, each SRB included at least one non-Federal Government employee who was an employee or consultant of a NASA contractor with an interest in or contract with either CxP or one of its projects. For example, the 12 non-Federal members of the CxP SRB included 4 members (33 percent) who were not independent. Table 1 below summarizes the extent of conflict-of-interest issues found amongst non-Federal Government employees of the CxP SRB and CxP project SRBs.

This condition occurred because NASA's procedures for determining the independence of an SRB member were inadequate. Specifically, because the SRBs met the definition of FACA committees but were not organized under FACA, they did not trigger the ethics review process associated with the establishment of FACA committees. Instead, NASA used a process that was lacking in both rigor and accuracy for determining independence of SRB members. For example, we identified seven SRB members who failed to indicate on their self-assessment forms that they were employed by companies receiving funding from CxP or CxP projects.

Because SRB members were not independent, NASA lacked assurance that SRB members provided impartial and unbiased opinions on the project's success in meeting technical, schedule, and cost-related milestones. Furthermore, by not verifying an SRB member's independence, NASA placed the SRB member at risk of violating the Procurement Integrity Act because the Agency did not take precautions, as required by the Act, to ensure that certain persons do not have access to source selection information that the Agency had not previously made available to the public.

Management Action

In November 2008, NASA took actions to address our concerns with FACA and the conflict-of-interest issues. Specifically, NASA initiated the Constellation Program and Project SRB Alignment and Continuous Improvement Activity with the objective of ensuring all SRBs maintain the highest level of technical expertise, currency, and independence. Between November 2008 and February 2009, the Agency will "pause" most CxP SRB activities while it addresses the FACA and conflict of interest compliance issues we disclosed in our April 2008 report. NASA plans to adopt an annual SRB review process that includes a disclosure document similar to the confidential financial disclosure report that Federal employees must file annually. In addition, the Agency plans to conduct a review for best practices and improvements to include transitioning the SRBs to be FACA compliant. We will continue to monitor these activities to assure consistency of management action with Federal law and NASA policy.

In our January 16, 2009, draft of this report, we recommended that prior to reactivating the CxP SRBs, the Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation implement adequate procedures to ensure identification of SRB members who have conflicts of interest and that NASA's Chief Engineer include or reference the implemented procedures in an applicable Agency requirements document.

The Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation concurred with our recommendation to implement procedures to ensure identification of SRB members who have conflicts of interest and stated that he incorporated such procedures into Program Analysis and Evaluation guidance to be released by March 31, 2009. NASA's Chief Engineer concurred with our recommendation to include or reference implemented procedures in an applicable Agency requirements document and will update NPR 7120.5D to reference the Program Analysis and Evaluation guidance. Management's comments are responsive; however, both recommendations will remain open until we have verified that the SRBs were reestablished in a manner consistent with Federal law and revised agency guidance. (See Appendix D for the full text of management's comments.)

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