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NASA Misuses $1.4 Million in Tax Dollars for Employee Education

PRNewsWire/NASA(WASHINGTON) -- The Office of the Inspector General has found that NASA misused $1.4 million in tax money by reimbursing dozens of its employees who pursued degrees outside NASA's established programs, sometimes at questionable for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix (the subject of an ABC News 2010 investigation) and Strayer University.

In an audit released Wednesday, the OIG said that many NASA employees routinely circumvented the agency's established programs, for which employees could receive reimbursement, and instead were paid for degrees earned outside NASA's formal programs.

The OIG identified 57 employees at headquarters and at four NASA Centers -- Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Flight Center, and Langley Research Center -- who were either pursuing or who have obtained academic degrees outside NASA's programs at a cost of $1.4 million. For 18 of those 57 employees, NASA paid more than $30,000 per employee for academic courses, with one employee receiving more than $60,000, according to the audit.

The OIG said it was not clear what benefit NASA received for its $1.4 million investment in academic courses for these employees.

Examples of the types of degrees specific employees undertook independently of NASA's formal programs included:

  • A secretary at headquarters pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration at Strayer University at a cost to NASA of $37,025.
  • A secretary at Johnson Space Center pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Phoenix at a cost to NASA of $13,770.
  • A program analyst at Kennedy obtained a master's degree in human resources management at Webster University at a cost to NASA of $15,705.

Although NASA did not respond directly to ABC News' request for comment on the OIG audit, NASA's Office of Human Capital Management responded within the report itself: "NASA should only fund academic training that is in alignment with the mission of the agency...and will coordinate with the Center Training Offices to establish a more comprehensive policy that will incorporate all academic training requests into the agency's academic training approval process."

The full report can be found on the OIG's website under "Reading Room."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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