Nearly four years after the Federal Aviation Administration leveled serious accusations of law-breaking against the city of San Jose, the two sides still have not resolved a critical audit. The series of delays paints a picture of government at work — or perhaps more accurately — not at work.
In March, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit first questioned why the 2010 report had languished in draft form. Since then, the city of San Jose has agreed to refund millions of dollars — money returned because federal auditors accused the city of overcharging the Mineta San Jose International Airport.
“We’ve responded to their letters, they’ve asked questions, it’s gone back and forth,” Kim Becker Aguirre, San Jose Airport’s Director said, trying to justify an example of government inefficiency. “There are a lot of complicated issues.”
It’s complicated, yet simple:
In 2010 the FAA accused the city of San Jose of improperly using airport profits and illegally diverting millions of airport dollars into the city’s general fund. Nearly four years after the FAA spent tens of thousands of dollars sending auditors to San Jose, reviewing city records and producing a draft report, the audit remains unresolved.
“The FAA absolutely dropped the ball here,” Gabe Bruno, former FAA executive and current executive director of the FAA Whistleblowers Alliance, said during an interview with the Investigative Unit in March. “It’s not acceptable not to finalize an audit after three years.”
Becker Aguirre said the airport is close to “buttoning up” the issue but that the FAA hasn’t responded to the airport’s comments since the middle of October.
One reason for the most recent delay is the fact that the FAA mailed its response to the wrong address. Instead of sending the correspondence to 1701 Airport Boulevard, federal auditors mailed the response to the airport’s old address — 1732 North First Street. Airport officials said that the FAA refused to send email correspondence, choosing only to address, stamp and send letters via snail mail.
That mistaken address stalled the process for another 30 days. The FAA also made a mistake in the audit’s original draft in 2010, calling the Mineta San Jose International Airport the “San Diego International Airport.”
“[The FAA] is a big organization and there are a lot of people managing the process,” Becker Aguirre said. “I think it was just an administrative oversight.”
The Investigative Unit asked the FAA for an explanation multiple times and received this response:
“We will not be granting an interview on San Jose International Airport. We continue to work with the airport to resolve the remaining issues found in our review.”
When asked if airport travelers and San Jose taxpayers should expect more from the FAA, the airport director said, “Well, I think what we need to focus on is the true core business of the FAA and that’s protecting the safety of the travelling public.” She acknowledged she was playing nice but said that’s what she believes.
The city of San Jose has contended all along that it has done nothing wrong. However, in an effort to resolve the conflict, city officials proposed refunding the airport $5.6 million dollars. That proposal has not been officially accepted. In its most recent communication the FAA said that it hoped to reach a resolution by August 31 of this year — that was 110 days ago.
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