Monday, March 05, 2012

CASIS Executive Director Resigns: Cites Concerns over ISS Business Practices

Ex CASIS Exec Dir. Jeanne L. Becker.
Here's another interesting sidebar to last weeks International Space Station (ISS) Heads of Agency meeting in Quebec City.

Dr. Jeanne L. Becker, the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization recently mandated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to manage the US National Laboratory aboard the ISS, has resigned after citing concerns over the business relationship between her organization and Pennsylvania based consulting firm ProOrbis LLC.

As described in her February 29th, 2012 letter of resignation (which was published under the March 4th, 2012 article "Resignation Letter from CASIS Executive Director Jeanne L. Becker"), Dr. Becker claims that:
  • ProOrbis was originally recruited and paid by NASA to write the ISS National Lab Reference Model, which became the template of methodologies NASA used when soliciting a nonprofit organization to manage the ISS National Laboratory in 2011 (a role which eventually went to CASIS). 
  • ProOrbis was then hired a second time to respond to the NASA solicitation by Space Florida, an advocacy group focused on regional aerospace economic development along the Florida "space coast."
  • ProOrbis wrote itself into the Space Florida proposal "as the prime source for CASIS organizational oversight and integration” which meant that, while ProOrbis didn't receive the original contract to manage the ISS National Laboratory, the firm does seem to have ended up with the contract for managing the agency (CASIS) which received the contract for managing the ISS National Laboratory (a contract which was awarded to CASIS under the terms of a reference model written by ProOrbis).
Current ProOrbis Principal Consultant Jeanne DiFrancesco
According to Becker, ProOrbis is essentially a for-profit consulting firm at odds with the nonprofit CASIS mandate. Becker believes that the ProOrbis involvement in CASIS management and business operations, developed through the NASA contracts listed above, puts CASIS’ status as a non-profit "at risk due to conflict of interest, liability and excess benefits issues."

As for ProOrbis, they have issued a March 4th, 2012 statement in response to the resignation (also published in under the title "ProOrbis Statement re: CASIS Director Resignation") which states that:
As is a matter of public record, Dr. Becker was included in the CASIS proposal as its Executive Director. In her commitment letter submitted with the original proposal, she stated "I am supportive of the management concepts as presented in the CASIS proposal being submitted." 

However, since taking on this role, she has not engaged ProOrbis in the stand-up activities of CASIS as was contemplated. Issues of conflict of interest for all the principal parties were satisfactorily addressed in the Cooperative Agreement and provisions were put in place to mitigate any potential conflicts. Dr. Becker's concerns about a non-profit organization working with a private company were addressed by legal counsel, which determined that they would not in any way prevent CASIS from engaging ProOrbis or executing the proposal. 
To translate, it seems that Dr. Becker was only hired by ProOrbis because she agreed that any conflicts of interests between parties had already been "satisfactorily addressed" by legal counsel. Otherwise, it's quite likely that she wouldn't have been hired. ProOrbis doesn't even deny that the business relationships as described by Dr. Becker, actually exist.

Events in this area seem to be moving forward quickly and CASIS has already made a public announcement that Jim Royston has been named interim Director of the organization (as per the March 5th, 2012 HobbySpace Post titled "Interim chief named for CASIS after director resigns over management dispute").

But now that the legal concerns are a part of the public record, it will be interesting to see if any of them end up needing to be "re-addressed."

1 comment:

  1. This story is not entirely surprising, given Pro Orbis' business methods. They are currently under contract with ITT Space Systems Division as well, who, lo and behold, have NASA as one of their key customers.


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