IG questions NASA procurement

A NASA inspector general has determined that agency officials are attempting to noncompetitively renew a software vendor’s licenses on a long-term basis, despite previous protests regarding the acquisition and NASA’s promise to issue a new competitive solicitation.

An Aug. 23 IG memo to NASA’s chief engineer and general counsel and the Johnson Space Center’s procurement officer states that the agency has seemingly reneged on assurances to fix improper procurement practices.

The memo was issued in response to multiple complaints about NASA’s acquisition approach with regard to Parametric Technology Corp.’s (PTC) mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD) and data management engineering software tools. These tools support programs including the space shuttle, the International Space Station and the next-generation Orion spacecraft.

The allegation is that NASA is attempting to establish the MCAD and data management products of one vendor, PTC, as the de facto NASA standard without an agencywide technical assessment and analysis to justify and support this standardization. Establishing these products as an across-the-board standard could “prove catastrophic to NASA’s programs,” according to the allegations detailed in the memo.

“The complaints allege that the PTC MCAD and data management products do not provide a technically robust or stable platform for design and development applications, and therefore, would present significant additional risk,” states the memo written by Evelyn Klemstine, NASA’s assistant IG for auditing.

NASA officials had told the Government Accountability Office that the protested procurement order would stand temporarily until a new competitive acquisition could be conducted. “And yet, contradictory to that letter, NASA is now planning to proceed with a long-term renewal of the PTC licenses on a noncompetitive basis,” Klemstine wrote.

Additionally, the critics allege that selecting the company’s products as the standard without proper justification violates federal procurement regulations.

“Our findings indicate that the allegations are credible and therefore warrant immediate notification to the agency,” Klemstine wrote.

The complaints go back to August 2005, when Johnson conducted a competitive procurement to renew the agency’s 301 existing PTC MCAD product licenses across multiple NASA centers and to acquire 50 additional licenses for the Marshall Space Flight Center. In September 2005, NASA awarded PTC a $5.2 million delivery order for the required licenses.

In October 2005, two competing vendors, UGS and Enterprise Solutions, filed protests with GAO, challenging NASA’s selection. The two companies complained that the procurement and the resultant selection of PTC were flawed on several counts, including failure to accurately describe NASA’s requirements and violation of competitive procurement regulations by conducting what was, in effect, a sole-source procurement.

At the time, a NASA senior attorney at the Office of the General Counsel said NASA intended to take corrective action rather than defend the protests. The agency would conduct a new competitive acquisition, following a “thorough scrub of agency requirements,” the attorney said.

Since then, NASA’s actions seem to be at odds with the statements made by the senior attorney, according to the IG memo.

“We learned that the agency has not conducted – and currently does not intend to conduct – a competitive acquisition for its MCAD software requirements,” the memo states. “Further, we found no evidence that a ‘thorough scrub of agency requirements’ was completed.”

The IG is now recommending that the Office of the Chief Engineer conduct an assessment of NASA’s agencywide requirements for the MCAD and data management software tools. She also recommended that Johnson’s procurement officer suspend procurement activity for long-term licensing of PTC products, pending completion of the assessment. Finally, she wants the Office of the General Counsel to notify GAO in writing of any deviations from the corrective actions that the agency committed to in 2005.

In a written response to a draft of the IG memo, NASA officials concurred with the first recommendation to perform an assessment. But NASA managers were silent on the recommendation that Johnson suspend any procurement activity to buy more PTC products. Agency officials declined to fulfill the third recommendation, notifying GAO.

The IG responded to NASA’s comments by requesting more information on why the agency will not suspend procurement activities. The IG also asked NASA managers to provide additional justification for their decision not to formally write to GAO.

“Since the prior protests were dismissed based on GAO’s reliance on NASA’s stated corrective action, this new information may cause the protest to be reopened. In any event, not notifying GAO could harm NASA’s credibility and expose the agency to increased risk in future litigation,” the IG said in response to NASA’s comments.


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