Between its various ongoing Mars missions, orbiters studying asteroids and other planets, and a Moon trip on the horizon, NASA spends a lot of money. Boeing, which has contracts with NASA to build the rocket for its Space Launch System (SLS) is a big recipient of that cash, and a new government accountability report reveals that NASA has not only been paying more and more despite Boeing falling way behind on its deadlines, it’s actually also been paying the company bonuses for its performance.
As Ars Technica explains, the new government report is somewhat troubling, especially when you consider that the SLS program has now fallen well behind schedule.
The Space Launch System has been in the works since the early 2010s and is designed to give NASA the power it needs to launch missions to the Moon and Mars. For starters, NASA just wants it to send an empty Orion spacecraft around the Moon, but those plans have had to be delayed since the rocket simply won’t be ready in time.
NASA has apparently been fudging the numbers a bit with regards to how much the whole program is going to cost, and while the agency already acknowledged cost overruns totaling around a billion dollars, the reality is even worse:
While NASA acknowledges about $1 billion in cost growth for the SLS program, it is understated. This is because NASA shifted some planned SLS scope to future missions but did not reduce the program’s cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8 billion.
On top of that, the report reveals that NASA has been paying Boeing what amounts to performance bonuses for its role in the program. Audits of the company’s performance on the SLS rocket have received several positive ratings from NASA assessors, leading to “award fees” of $271 million to be paid to the company.
NASA paid over $200 million in award fees from 2014-2018 related to contractor performance on the SLS stages and Orion spacecraft contracts. But the programs continue to fall behind schedule and overrun costs.