NASA has not violated a 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act provision barring the agency from using funds appropriated for the marked-for-cancellation Constellation program to create or initiate a program to take its place, according to a legal opinion the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released May 21.
Fourteen House lawmakers asked the GAO in March to examine whether NASA is violating the law by slowing work on Constellation and establishing study teams to plan for the transition to new programs the agency intends to stand up in its place. In its response to the lawmakers, the GAO cleared NASA’s use of study teams and said it would be issuing a separate opinion on NASA’s compliance with restrictions on Constellation termination activities.
The GAO found that although NASA has established study teams staffed by field center employees whose salaries are paid from the agency’s exploration appropriations account, such activities have been focused solely on planning related to proposals in the 2011 budget request, including handling requests for information from academia and industry and setting up planning offices to provide an organizational structure for planning activities in the areas of robotic precursors and emerging technologies.
But because the NASA study teams “did not award any contracts or bind NASA to taking any future course of action,” the teams’ planning activities have not resulted in the initiation of a new program, project or activity, the GAO found.