George W’s liaison with NASA faces 5 years for fraud

NASA’s former chief of staff has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge stemming from a $600,000 contract awarded by the space agency to Mississippi State University, a client of his consulting firm.

Courtney Stadd, NASA’s chief of staff and White House liaison from 2001 to 2003, pleaded guilty to one conspiracy charge in a nine-count indictment in federal court in Gulfport, said Sheila Wilbanks, a U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman.

He faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 at sentencing…Wilbanks said.

Stadd was indicted in December 2009 on charges that included conspiracy, false statements, false claims, obstructing a grand jury and fraud. He had faced 55 years if convicted of all countsDon’t you love plea deals?

Prosecutors say Stadd conspired with Liam Sarsfield, NASA’s former chief deputy engineer in Washington. Sarsfield pleaded guilty in November to one charge against him: acts affecting a personal financial interest. Sarsfield controlled a $1.5 million fund and designed contracts that wouldn’t have to be put out for bid.

A Republican favorite: no-bid contracts. That’s how Bush and Cheney ran the whole Iraq War.

He steered them where he wanted them to go, including to Mississippi State and a company in Ohio, prosecutors said, netting himself about $270,000 in illegal profits.

Stadd began conspiring with Sarsfield in 2004 to direct the $600,000 contract to MSU, which then subcontracted $450,000 to Stadd’s consulting business, Capitol Solutions, prosecutors said. The consulting firm allegedly paid Sarsfield $87,752 on that contract…

Stadd already had been convicted of an ethics violation for steering a different contract for almost $10 million to the university. He was sentenced last year to three years’ probation in that case.

Stadd was Bush’s appointee to lead the transition in NASA for his administration and oversight. Well done, George.

Year 2 of the EcoCar challenge

Automotive technology is evolving at a dizzying pace, and training the next generation of car engineers is no longer confined to traditional classrooms and textbooks. Real-world, hands-on experience is crucial and that’s why collegiate engineering competitions like the EcoCar Challenge are more important than ever before. The 2010 finals have just ended and [Motorweek] we were proud to take part in the judging, so let’s tally up the results.

EcoCar is a three-year competition in which 16 North American college teams were challenged to improve the emissions and fuel economy of a compact GM crossover vehicle while retaining all of its utility, safety and performance.

Teams were allowed to design their own drivetrain architectures, and chosen technologies included full-electrics, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells, and extended range electric vehicles…

After a year of modeling and simulation, teams were given their vehicles for year two, and have worked ever since on implementing their designs. But the students also had to think real-world in terms of packaging their components, fit and finish, drivability and consumer acceptance…

All these kids are top-notch engineers already, even before they’ve graduated. But what we’re doing is giving them experience with the latest tools and techniques, plus a very long-term disciplined process that we give to them and their schools so that they can have a three-year experience doing something really big…

After a grueling week of testing, Mississippi State University claimed top honors for 2010. Their Biodiesel extended-range electric vehicle achieved fuel economy equivalent to 118 miles per gallon while also achieving the fastest acceleration and autocross times and the cleanest tailpipe emissions. Congratulations also go to Virginia Tech for 2nd place, and Penn State in 3rd position.

But the EcoCar Challenge doesn’t end here. Year Three of the competition is when teams must show full component integration in a near-production-ready vehicle.

Bravo! To the students and sponsors together and separately. This kind of hands-on experience is invaluable. And, frankly, the competition seems to be turning out some interesting drive trains.