(CN) – A California-based NASA contractor agreed to pay $375,000 to settle whistleblower claims that it falsely certified support equipment for a rocket launch system conformed to the agency’s specifications.
Middle District of Florida U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced Monday that United Paradyne Corporation agreed to the settlement to resolve the alleged False Claims Act violations.
“Violating NASA’s contractual requirements raises danger and risks to our space program and its personnel as well as harms the integrity of the federal contracting process,” Lopez said in a statement. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office remains committed to enforcing federal law and ensuring a system of fair play for all government contractors.”
A former United Paradyne employee, Steven Walker, filed the underlying lawsuit in Orlando federal court in August 2017. The False Claims Act lets whistleblowers file lawsuits on the federal government’s behalf. If the government decides to join as a plaintiff, the whistleblower, called the relator in court filings, gets a reward of 15 to 25% of any settlement or judgment.
United Paradyne had agreed to provide NASA with certain ground support equipment designed for its new Space Launch System and Orion space capsule for the Artemis program.
The equipment was intended to provide power, communications, coolant, fuel and stabilization prior to launch.
Walker accused his former employer of knowingly submitting false invoices to NASA for assembling and cleaning rocket launch systems despite failing to clean the equipment or verifying cleanliness throughout testing and the final inspection.
According to the lawsuit, United Paradyne falsely certified that its work conformed to the space agency’s requirements.
As a facilities supervisor on the project between 2013 and 2015, Walker claims he witnessed many instances of neglect of vital parts for rocket operations.
“Needles to say, failure to properly clean this equipment, or not clean it at all, could lead to loss of a rocket and loss of life to those onboard and those in the surrounding lift off area,” the complaint states.
The crew access arm umbilical, a piece of equipment United Paradyne was responsible for maintaining, was designed for astronauts to access the Orion capsule and will be used on NASA’s Artemis II mission in 2022, which will see a crew perform a lunar flyby test before returning to Earth.
Under the agreement, Walker will receive $75,000 from the settlement.
A spokesperson for United Paradyne could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning.
Attorneys for NASA also could not be reached for comment.
John Corbett, an agent with NASA’s inspector general office, applauded the Justice Department and Walker for “coming to an acceptable resolution.”
“The NASA Office of Inspector General will continue to aggressively investigate all whistleblower qui tam fraud allegations related to NASA operations and the building of the next generation space launch vehicle and related ground support equipment,” Corbett said in a statement.
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