Florida’s inspector general finds problems with Project Odyssey

Back in January the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Florida governor’s office was directing an investigation of Project Odyssey, a space tourism training program in Pensacola funded with state money that was announced in December, after it appeared that the project’s director was heavily involved in its formation and funding while a state employee. Now that initial investigation is done, and the news isn’t good for Project Odyssey or its director, Brice Harris.

As the Sentinel reports today, the state’s inspector general has found that Harris “likely violated” state law by helping arrange $500,000 in state grants for the project and then going to work for the Andrews Institute, the Pensacola medical center where Project Odyssey is located. During a review of 5,000 emails by the office, “it appeared the Project Odyssey consumed most of Harris’ e-mail communications and work time while he was employed with OTTED,” the inspector general’s report states, referring the Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development, where Harris worked prior to joining the Andrews Institute. OTTED provided half of the $500,000 for Project Odyssey, with Space Florida contributing the other half. “The emails indicate that Harris’ involvement in Project Odyssey was disproportionate to his time expended on his various other OTTED related duties.”

The inspector general’s report recommended that the case be referred to the state’s ethics commission “for further evaluation and determination of ethics law violations.” The entire project is now in jeopardy, regardless of any technical or economic merits it may have, because of this controversy. “There’s no reason to be spending state dollars to subsidize rich people who will be flying on future flights into space,” Barney Bishop, a member of the Space Coast’s Economic Development Commission, tells the Sentinel. “I would hope they’re going to cancel this contract, because it makes no sense on the face of it, and now there are questions about how it was set up in the first place.”

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