The inspector general at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is reportedly looking into whether a senior NASA official made improper contact with Boeing (NYSE:BA) to help guide the aerospace giant in a lunar-landing completion.
NASA wants to return to the moon by 2024 and is awarding billions in contracts to companies to help it get there. As part of that effort, in late April the agency awarded nearly $1 billion to three companies to develop the landing systems needed to get astronauts to the moon's surface, and get them home safely.
Boeing was one of the also-rans in that competition, losing out to teams from Leidos Holdings' (NYSE:LDOS) Dynetics subsidiary, SpaceX, and Blue Origin.
Now NASA's inspector general is apparently threatening to add insult to injury, looking into discussions Boeing officials had with the former head of NASA's human-exploration office. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday the investigation is looking into contacts between Doug Loverro, who resigned from NASA in May, and Boeing that occurred outside of normal contracting channels.
The report said that NASA is also looking at conversations between Loverro and other contractor, noting that there is nothing yet to suggest what, if any, information was passed on or whether the motives were nefarious.
At first glance, it would seem Boeing must not have gotten too big of an improper advantage, if any at all, given it was not one of the three finalists selected as part of the competition. But defense contractors are very protective of their reputations in dealings with the government, and Boeing execs will be loath to see these headlines even if they eventually come to nothing.
Boeing was involved in one of the most notable contracting controversies in recent memory, a 1990s Air Force tanker competition that resulted in Boeing's CFO going to jail for unduly influencing the outcome by offering a government official a job.