Audit: NASA Fails to Document Google Deal

Inspector General calls for more transparency in deal to park private planes at NASA Ames

A federal auditor has confirmed what an NBC Bay Area Investigation first discovered earlier this year. NASA Ames should have been more transparent and allowed other private companies to house private airplanes at Moffett Field.

The Inspector General’s report found that while NASA Ames’ lease of hangar space at Moffett Field with a private company owned by Google executives was consistent with NASA guidance and applicable laws, NASA should have been more transparent and should have ensured a more competitive process.

A modified German fighter jet is one of six airplanes owned by a private company called H211 that has leased space at a NASA Ames hangar since 2007.

The principal owners of H211 are also the principals of Google, which coincidentally has its headquarters just blocks away.

Back in May we talked to H211 Executive Director Ken Ambrose about the company’s relationship with NASA. We asked him why it was important for H2-11 to lease this particular space.

“Good question. It’s expensive, but it’s proximate,” said Ambrose.

We also asked Ambrose to respond to critics who would argue that the agreement between NASA and H211 is just a well-connected, well heeled, well financed group of people flying their private jets in and out of a government run facility.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything all that unusual. We’re willing to do it and we’re willing to pay for it,” Ambrose argued.

But the Inspector General’s audit says NASA “Should have taken additional steps to ensure the competitive process was transparent.”

The report points out that H211, approached NASA on its own, about parking its private airplanes at Moffett.

“H2-11 knew about the unused hangar space because of dealings the company had with Ames on other matters,” the report states.

  Paul Asmus runs a charity named HAL (Humanitarian Air Logistics). Asmus has been trying for years to get the same deal as H211.

“It’s very frustrating and angering because we as taxpayers expect better of our government,” said Asmus.

 HAL wants to base its disaster relief missions out of Moffett Field. Asmus agrees with the Inspector General’s findings.

 “They do call into question why they did not go out and inform other people of the availability of this facility. They didn’t try to get the best deal and they weren’t transparent and it wasn’t fair.”
Although the audit report says there was no specific requirement that Ames publish the availability of hangar space, “An official announcement of the hangar’s availability would have ensured a more transparent leasing process as well as fairness to other interested parties.”

And there is the question of scientific research. The hangar lease requires that some science be conducted by the airplanes based at Ames to fulfill NASA’s charter. The audit found H2-11 and NASA “Conducted 155 flights in support of scientific research-related missions.”

That’s only about 15-percent (14.92) of all flights tracked in and out of Moffett Field that match the profile of an H211 airplane. To put it another way, that’s about two flights a month for direct or indirect support of science research.

We reached out to NASA and a spokesman at Ames told us they had no one to comment on the Inspector General’s report.

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