Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Plot Thickens

Late the evening of May 22, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted a series of posts on Twitter accusing a former U.S. Air Force official of taking a job with the company that provides United Launch Alliance with RD-180 engines after awarding a 36-launch block buy to ULA.

The Associated Press reported on May 23 that SpaceX has amended its complaint filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to note Roger Correll's new employer.

Particularly curious is an article that surfaced May 24 in the Valley Morning Star. The paper operates out of Harlingen, Texas, a town with a population of 65,000 near where SpaceX has been buying property at Boca Chica for a commercial spaceport.

The lengthy article, titled “Aerospace Battle,” details a lawsuit between the U.S. Air Force, Boeing and ULA subsidiary United Launch Services.

The United States maintains that United Launch Services’ and The Boeing Company’s claim for roughly $400 million from the Air Force in deferred costs for launch services is barred by “illegality,” the Valley Morning Star has found.

The United States also states in public records that a government purchasing contracting officer had no authority to agree to reimburse deferred costs, and that the arrangement violates federal purchasing regulations.

Who was the contracting officer?

The article continues:

The United States does not name the government’s acquisitions contracting officer that it states did not have the authority to agree to reimbursements to Boeing. Court documents reflect, however, that at least four contracting officers signed off on agreements at various stages of the negotiations.

Reviewing Mr. Correll's USAF biography, he joined the Acquisition office in January 2008, and in May 2011 he became the Program Executive Officer for Space Launch acquisition. The article states that scrutiny of the reimbursements led to a halt in these payments sometime in 2008, after a Government Accountability Office audit and congressional inquiry, so this may have occurred prior to Mr. Correll's arrival in Washington, D.C.

The timing of the story seems a bit coincidental. A lengthy investigative article such as this would have taken some time to research and write. One wonders how the paper found out about the story — unless someone tipped them to it.

The article states:

As ULS’ and Boeing’s lawsuit plays out in the United States Court of Federal Claims, Space Exploration Technologies, SpaceX, also recently filed a lawsuit in the same court, challenging the Air Force’s continuing resistance to open the EELV system to competition.

ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. ULA has a manufacturing facility in Harlingen.

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