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Inspector General Audits Over-Budget NASA Projects

Two projects funded by a grant from NASA are running over-budget and behind schedule, according to an new audit released by the Office of the Inspector General.

In the report, the OIG reviewed a $3.6 million cooperative agreement between NASA and BioServe Space Technologies – University of Colorado at Boulder, and concluded that BioServe and NASA “underestimated the complexity of the development effort and failed to identify all technical requirements,” leading to delays and cost overruns. (RELATED: NASA Funds Pizza 3D Food Printer)

The initial agreement, finalized in August 2011, awarded BioServe $600,000 to study the effects of microgravity on plants, but was subsequently amended 13 times to include development of equipment for the International Space Station, increasing the total value of the grant to $3,577,247. Both of the projects identified as over-budget by the OIG were among the modifications. (RELATED: NASA Attaches 24-Hour Live Streaming HD Cameras to ISS)

One project involves development of a “Space Automated Bioproduct Lab” (bio lab) designed to facilitate experiments on board the ISS, and the other involves development of a “multi-well plate” (multi-well) for studying cell cultures on the space station.

“BioServe was originally approved to spend $1.45 million for the bio lab project,” the report said. “But will now require an additional $520,000 and 16 additional months to complete the work.” Among the reasons given by BioServe for failing to meet its criteria was that its proposal “underestimated the effort needed to complete development.”

The multi-well project was originally approved for $500,000, but “will now require about $75,000 more and an additional 10 months to complete the work.”

According to the principal investigator in the audit, “BioServe prepared the proposal for the project in the fall of 2012 with limited knowledge of requirements associated with two key pieces of equipment on the ISS.”

However, officials at Johnson Space Center told the OIG that NASA also shares some responsibility for the overruns, not just BioServe.

For one thing, they said, NASA “added requirements for an on-orbit validation flight for both pieces of hardware, increasing the cost.” In addition, schedule delays for both projects were “also attributable to the Agency’s direction to BioServe to give work on a rodent research flight project higher priority.” (RELATED: Top Ten Wasteful Government Programs)

In June, NASA and BioServe approved a plan whereby NASA will provide an additional $595,000 for the two projects, and both will be completed by January 2015. NASA officials believe they “now understand the effort needed to complete the projects and anticipate BioServe will meet the revised budget and schedule.”

Going forward, the OIG says that, “additional efforts are required to better identify and price technical requirements in the early stage of hardware development.” The report also recommends that NASA “track and compare actual expenditures to approved project budgets in order to avoid cost and schedule overruns.”

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