WASHINGTON -- The General Accounting Office is urging NASA not to award a contract for its Earth Observation System Data Information System, a project that could mean money and jobs for Maryland, until a plan is devised to resolve technical difficulties.
The GAO urged the delay in a report released yesterday.
The Earth Observation System [EOS] is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration project designed to collect data on changes in the global environment. The information would be processed by EOSDIS.
Hughes Information Technology Co., one of two companies bidding for the EOSDIS Core Systems contract, would do most of its work from its Seabrook, Md., office near Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. The firm, based in Herndon, Va., is part of Los Angeles-based Hughes Aircraft Co.
NASA expects EOSDIS to cost $3 billion this decade, and if Hughes gets the contract, up to half of that amount could be spent in Maryland, said Kevin Kelly, a spokesman for Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Mr. Kelly estimated that some 500 jobs would be generated in the private sector and 200 to 300 positions would be added at Goddard, which is to be one of seven regional centers for the processing and dissemination of EOSDIS data.
"EOS [the Earth Observation System] will dominate Goddard's agenda for the next 15 years," Mr. Kelly said. Since "Goddard pumps about $1 billion directly into Maryland's economy every year," EOSDIS is "absolutely crucial" to the state's economy, he said.
The other company bidding for the EOSDIS contract is TRW Inc. Space & Defense Sector, also located in Virginia. Its parent company, TRW Inc., is a California-based company, and most of its work on EOSDIS will be conducted on the West Coast if it wins the bid.
EOS, using a number of space observatories, is designed to collect and integrate environmental information from the Earth's atmosphere, biosphere, oceans, land surfaces, and polar regions. It is slated to begin full-scale operation in 1998.
EOSDIS would process, archive, and distribute the EOS data. The goal of EOSDIS is to make the information easily affordable ** and accessible for scientists.
The GAO report criticized NASA for what it said is NASA's failure to address technological inadequacies of the program. The space agency "has not identified and set in place adequate efforts to reduce the significant technological and cost risks inherent in a project of this size," said Rep. George E. Brown Jr., who called for the study.
Brown, a California Democrat, is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The GAO recommended that NASA not proceed with the awarding of the contract until "specific plans have been developed and resources identified" to address the problems.
But this would not necessarily mean a delay in the contract schedule, according to Samuel W. Bowlin, the GAO official who directed the study. He said it is feasible for the recommended steps to be taken before the contract's expected signing in November.
Ms. Mikulski, however, believes that the GAO study was undertaken in an effort to derail the entire EOS project. The senator was not available for comment due to illness, but Mr. Kelly said she believes "the conclusion reached in the report . . . is a very subtle way of proposing to terminate the contract."
Delaying the program would increase its cost, which "in a tight fiscal situation would end in termination," said Mr. Kelly. "It's a tremendous threat to Maryland's economy."
NASA denied there were technical problems. "The greatest concern [about EOSDIS] is not technical. Rather it is that we not be allowed to proceed expeditiously to make data on the global environment available to policy makers," said Dr. Lennard A. Fisk, a NASA associate administrator.