The National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia, hired an inexperienced contractor for a big job that was over its head and then failed to take steps when things started going wrong. That’s the conclusion of an independent review of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), a troubled $433 million scientific facility under construction at dozens of sites across the United States.
Last December NSF fired the contractor, NEON Inc., citing a potential $80 million cost overrun and continued delays in completing the project. But NSF officials share the blame for those problems, James Abrahamson, an independent consultant hired by NSF to review the project, said this morning during a preliminary report to the National Science Board, NSF’s oversight body.
“NEON Inc. was like a high school team trying to tackle a job that requires the skills of the NBA [National Basketball Association] or the NFL [National Football League],” said Abrahamson, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general who managed the controversial Strategic Defense (“Star Wars”) Initiative during the Reagan administration. “Over a period of years they made progress. But they could no longer make up the time that they had left.”