The U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) is launching a series of audits and investigations into NASA's spending practices, and hopes to find space agency employees willing to offer information - anonymously if necessary.
The GAO, the investigation arm of the U.S. Congress, said it is reaching out to NASA employees who might have concerns about the agency's spending practices or its billing interactions with contractors, but are afraid to speak up.
The investigation is aimed at testing the design and effectiveness of NASA's own internal control over the distribution of its funds, everything from individual agency credit cards to contract awards, according to a GAO official speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"We believe there are employees that have information," the official told SPACE.com.
The investigation comes at the urging of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chair of the Senate's Committee on Governmental Affairs. Collins was concerned with GAO reports stating the agency "failed to reconcile fund balances with the Treasury Department and report reliable financial information involving billions of dollars." She was also concerned that NASA had "substantial problems" implementing a new financial management system that will cost taxpayers at least $1 billion.
"Given these serious problems, I am concerned about whether NASA has an effective system of internal controls in place to prevent fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer resources," Collins said in a June 28 letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker.
NASA headquarters spokeswoman Sarah Keegan said agency officials formally began meetings with GAO personnel on Aug. 12 regarding the agency's spending practices.
Collins cited a May 19 GAO report to a House of Representatives subcommittee that highlighted a number of challenges facing NASA's financial management culture, including areas of concern regarding the space agency's Integrated Financial Management Program (IFMP). The program, projected to reach full implementation by 2006, is aimed at improving the agency's management of financial, physical and human resources.
"While some areas needing reform relate to automated systems, automation alone is not sufficient to transform NASA's financial management culture," the report stated. "NASA needs to fully integrate its financial management operations with its program management decision-making process."
In her statement to the House subcommittee, NASA Chief Financial Officer Gwendolyn Brown said the space agency has unconditionally endorsed GAO recommendations from a series of 2003 reports, is working to implement them and is "unwavering in our commitment to the long-term financial health of our agency."
"We are on the road to improved financial management but, are by no means, anywhere near the end of that journey," she added.
NASA employees seeking to submit information to GAO officials can do so anonymously by sending a message to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.