Audit: NASA not doing enough to combat fraud in business program

Result that about 25 percent of the awards included improper payments totaling $2.7 million.

The NASA Inspector General's office released a report Wednesday detailing more than $2 million of waste and fraud involving NASA research grants provided in conjunction with the Small Business Administration's Small Business Innovation Research program.

The audit was initiated after an investigation found unscrupulous applicants collected payments multiple times. The SBIR program works with other federal agencies such as NASA to direct federal research dollars to qualified small businesses.

The review found that "while NASA's initial choice of SBIR award recipients appeared objective and merit-based, its oversight and monitoring of awards was deficient," with the result that about 25 percent of the awards included improper payments totaling $2.7 million.

In response to the IG report, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., urged NASA to quickly implement the inspector general's recommendations. They included calling on the agency to implement 24 internal controls aimed at helping to prevent and detect SBIR fraud and abuse such as better training for SBIR evaluators and enhanced cooperation with SBA on combating waste and fraud.

"Government-supported scientific research and innovation is one of the keys to our country's future economic growth. We can't afford to lose any of our precious research and development dollars to waste, fraud or abuse," Rockefeller said in a statement.

The Senate passed legislation in the last Congress to reauthorize SBIR and the SBA's Small Business Technology Transfer program that included language added by Rockefeller and Senate Small Business ranking member Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, aimed at addressing concerns about fraud and abuse, Rockefeller said. The bill, however, died in the House.

Snowe said the IG's report "highlights the need for Congress to pass comprehensive legislation reauthorizing the SBIR program and providing agencies with the necessary tools to improve their oversight efforts."