Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal probe into whether a senior NASA official improperly shared information about a lunar-lander project with a high-ranking executive at Boeing Co., which then acted on his guidance, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The grand-jury investigation, which hasn’t been previously reported, is being led by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia and is focused on communication that occurred early this year outside established contracting channels, these people said. Prosecutors, they said, are looking into contacts between Doug Loverro, before he resigned as head of NASA’s human-exploration programs in May, and Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s space and launch division.
Mr. Loverro, who wasn’t part of NASA’s official contracting staff, informed Mr. Chilton that the Chicago aerospace giant was about to be eliminated from the competition based on cost and technical evaluations, according to some of the people. Within days, Boeing submitted a revised proposal, they said. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration formally determined the bid changes came too late to be considered, and three other companies won contracts in April totaling nearly $1 billion.
The investigation is in the early stages, according to the people familiar with it, and it isn’t known whether the probe will result in a criminal case. Regardless of how it ends, the investigation heightens scrutiny of Mr. Loverro’s conduct and raises new questions about Boeing’s decision-making and internal contracting safeguards. Several mid-level Boeing officials, including an attorney, were pushed out of the company as a result of the controversy, people familiar with the personnel changes said.
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The company has taken steps to improve internal compliance training following this episode, said a person briefed on the company’s response.
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