Google parks its new jet fighter at NASA -- Why the deal may fleece the taxpayer

Hello? Is anyone with formal NASA oversight responsibilities looking out for the taxpayer? 

·    The New York Times Bits blog reported that Google executives added a fighter jet to "their growing fleet of private airplanes" which uniquely enjoy private landing/parking rights at NASA's Moffet airfield, a couple of miles from Google's headquarters -- an exceptional corporate perk by any measure.

·    Kudos to the NYT for filing a Freedom of Information Act inquiry to further look into the Google-NASA special deal, because the deal has at least the perception of impropriety.   

It is troubling and telling that there has been no public or open investigation of NASA's highly irregular arrangement to allow only Google's top executives landing rights at a NASA airsfield a couple of miles from Google's headquarters -- purportedly in exchange for scientific research.


Let's review all the ways this special deal for a special interest smells of fleecing the taxpayer.

First, where's the Government oversight?

·    NASA: Why have there been no public statements by NASA that the agreement was fully vetted and complies with all procurement and ethics laws?

o   Why was the government's normal open, competitive procurement process not used by NASA, especially when the surface facts look so obviously like a special deal?

o   If the agreement has indeed been fully vetted and reviewed, why not say so and lift the cloud of impropriety?  

·    NASA Inspector General: Why after over a year has the Inspector General not investigated this unprecedented special deal and reported to the Administrator, Congress and the public as required in their mission?

o   If the NASA IG believes the deal is appropriate, why not clear up the controversy and the appearance of impropriety, and give the agreement the IG's imprimateur that it complies with all Government procurement and ethics regulations? 

§    Specifically, it would be helpful for the NASA IG to state that the special arrangement with Google is in fact the most efficient, effective and economical way for NASA to conduct its scientific research, and also why Google's executives, which are novices in this field, are better resources than all the established expert scientific research entities that NASA already deals with.

§    More specifically, it would inspire confidence in the oversight process, if the IG could explain why there is no "abuse of agency programs or operations" by allowing only the senior executives of only one company, the highest profile of billionaires, private landing rights to make their personal commute more convenient. 

§    What was the process and procedure followed to ensure these particular individuals were the only ones that warranted special private landing privledges? 

·    General Services Adminstration: Has the GSA's Aircraft Management Overview process "to promote best practices in aviation management" reviewed this highly irregular arrangement that appears on the surface to be improper?  

·    Media: Have the media covering the NASA Administrator asked the Adminstrator why the Google work being done for NASA could not be done by NASA or DOD or anyone else other than Google? 

o   Why was the deal not competitively bid?

o   Why can't other private entities secure landing rights at Moffet airfield?

o   What is the rationale for the special Google exception?

·    Congressional oversight: In this environment of concern over the corruption of earmarks for special interests occurring outside public view, why have there been no inquiries from Congress to see if this special Google-NASA deal protects taxpayers interest?

o   Moreover, given the heightened media scrutiny of whether congressional travel is done most cost effectively, why does this special travel arrangement between Google and NASA get a pass?  


Second, has there been any public misrepresentation of the Google-NASA relationship?

·    If the reason for granting private landing rights at an airfield otherwise closed to the public, why is the arrangement between NASA and a holding company owned by Google's founders and CEO, and not by Google formally?

o   Does NASA really believe that three billionaires fully employed by Google, personally have more scientific research capabilities and expertise, than the full company Google, with 20,000 employees?

·    If the true purpose of the arrangement is to advance the taxpayers interest in getting the best scientific research possible, and not a personal convenience for only three of the area's billionaires, why is the arrangement not with Google directly?

o   And if it is indeed a deal with Google directly, what is the purpose and benefit for Google shareholders of additional landing rights for a fighter jet and a 757 retrofitted jet described by Google's CEO as a "party airplane"?

·    If this arrangement is merely for the benefit of Google's founders and CEO, why can't other local billionaires park their private jets and fighter jet toys at Moffet airfield too?

Third, if there was no competitive bid as generally required by Federal procurement regulations, why was the taxpayer not shortchanged?

·    How do we know that the rent that Google is paying is what a competitive bidding process would produce?

·    It is logical that other local billionaires would be willing to pay more than $1.3 million a year for long-term landing/parking rights at such an extraordinarily convenient location.


Fourth, in the event of a tragedy where a Google aircraft caused loss of life or property in the residential area around Moffet Airfield, is NASA and the American taxpayer fully indemnified for any loss from any potential Google'negligence? If not, why not?

·    If Google executives can fly in and out of Moffet when not conducting a scientific mission for NASA, is their any special dispensation or special protections for the taxpayer when the airfield is being used purely for personal use and not for the benefit of the taxpayer?

·    Specifically how many of the "88 flights in the last year or so" are scientific missions and how many are personal or "party" trips?

o   These facts would be particularly relevant in determining whether the deal was predominantly for the benefit of scientific research or for personal convenience of Google's executives.

·    Another question that would be relevant for an overseerer to ask Google and NASA, is who determines when and where the flights occur?

o   Are the flights scheduled around the personal needs of the Google executives or the needs of the scientific research?

o   This is relevant because the time of day and weather would drive when the best aerial photography would occur for the benefit of the taxpayer.


Bottom line: The many overseers responsible for ensuring the American taxpayer is not fleeced by special deals for special interests -- have a legal obligation to determine if the NASA-Google private landing rights deal is in the public interest or if it is a special interest abuse of the Government's procurement system.