Congress, NASA

An Iowa senator’s concerns about a California NASA center

The relationship between NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC) and Internet search giant Google has occasionally attracted scrutiny. For the last few years H211, a holding company owned by top Google officials, has based several aircraft at the center’s Moffett Field, allowing them to be used by NASA for scientific flights as well as for other purposes. A recent report by the local NBC affiliate noted that H211, which pays over $100,000 per month in rent to Ames, has flown 52 science flights since the agreement was signed in 2007, although H211 aircraft have made over 1,000 flights in an out of the center overall during the same period.

The latest person to raise questions about this arrangement is a senior member of Congress. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released yesterday a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden about this deal. “My office recently received troubling allegations regarding the Google fleet of aircraft housed at Moffett Airfield,” Grassley wrote, citing the NBC report as well as “allegations that Google has purchased jet fuel from the government at a discounted price” well below the going market price. The letter then includes nearly a page of questions that Grassley asked Bolden for answers by May 25.

This is not the first time Grassley has raised issues about NASA Ames activities. Last month he sent another letter to Bolden about alleged ITAR violations at the center. Grassley, citing unidentified “whistleblowers”, said he understood Ames director Pete Worden was under investigation for ITAR violations along with another Ames official and unnamed foreign nationals. “These allegations came to my office from individuals who are concerned about the direction of the ARC under Mr. Worden’s leadership,” Grassley wrote. He asked for a briefing by late April, but has not received it “despite repeated follow-up inquiries,” according to a statement from his office.

“The allegations are substantive,” Grassley said in a statement Tuesday. “NASA should address the allegations in the interest of public accountability.” So why is Grassley speaking out? He said in the statement that whistleblowers contacted the senator, who is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “because of his reputation of receptiveness to whistleblowers.”

7 comments to An Iowa senator’s concerns about a California NASA center

  • amightywind

    Whistleblowers have questioned the benefit to the U.S. government from the Google fleet being housed at Moffett Airfield.

    Good for Senator Grassley. When I first heard of this deal making years ago I wondered the same thing. What interest can NASA possibly have housing Sergei Brin’s 767? Can anyone be surprised that the leftist transnationals at Google run their own foreign policy out of Moffett? Get them out, now. And make an example of the director of NASA Ames.

  • Doug Lassiter

    It would indeed be interesting to get a full accounting of research activity from Ames about these vehicles, but to the extent they are used for regular deployment of any kind of sophisticated instrumentation, basing that instrumentation at Ames is far more sensible than basing it at some commercial airport, requiring Ames scientists and technologists to truck themselves out there to maintain it.

    I do find it a bit troubling how a personnel transport fleet (probably somewhat luxuriously outfitted) can be seamlessly shared with instrumentation that requires a lot of hands-on access. Cables on the floor and instrumentation engineers and scientists traipsing through it don’t quite seem consistent with a corporate personnel transport aircraft. Scheduling must be a mess as well. Is the science being done not time-critical, such that Sergei can roll in and tell them to postpone it?

    The use of KSC launch facilities for commercial purposes not involving NASA has some relevance in this regard, I would think.

    Of course, Ames originally cleared out and cleaned up 211 to make room for SOFIA, before that aircraft was sent to Palmdale/DFRC. Ames is desperate to do something useful with 211. Not too much more you can do with a hanger other than putting airplanes in it.


    @amightywind wrote @ May 16th, 2012 at 8:14 am

    “Whistleblowers have questioned the benefit to the U.S. government from the Google fleet being housed at Moffett Airfield.”

    The priorities of Grassley are questionable and it would better serve the nation if a U.S. senator focused on why Raptor fighter jets, which cost $400-plus million a piece, have faulty 02 systems which impair pilots.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Personally, I find any claims that AF Gen Pete Worden deliberately did anything to undermine US security to be nearly slanderous.

    Note also that Scott Hubard was dismissed from Ames on pretty trivial charges.

    This is vicious.

    One problem Ames and NASA had and have was and is the use and maintenance of the dirigible hangar, a Bay area landmark.

    AW – Google operates in an international environment.

    Personally, on taking power in 2008 the Democrats should have made sure that Griffin answered Contempt of Congress charges for his response to the George Brown Jr amendment. It should have resulted in a GAO report, at a minimum.

    It would have impaired ATK’s attacks.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “What interest can NASA possibly have housing Sergei Brin’s 767?”

    $1.3 million per year in Google payments to NASA, plus extra fees for utilities, fuel and parking:

    If you’re going to criticize Google, at least use their search engine before posting ignorant questions.

  • vulture4

    NASA acting in cooperation with private industry, helping to create high-tech jobs in the commercial market and promote US exports? Shocking!. Wait a minute, that was what NACA was created to do in 1915!

    Grassley believes NASA should be limited to funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to a few big GOP contributors for a giant government-micromanaged program with no useful products.

  • DJ Jones

    RE: DCSC on Grassley’s priorities & focus on Raptor fighter and E.P. Grondine on slander & vicious about Worden. I see, simply, diversion here — used by the likes of Worden (as lead of the OSI – Office of Strategic Influence.). As this unravels, Raptor costs (and influence) will look like “chunk change”! Few other Senators have such courage to take on this “system”. Just do your research! Suggestion to start: See (longer blog with numbered paragraphs.)

    Of course, if you support Wikileaks, you will also support doing away with ITAR (allowing foreign nationals access to our secrets), tax evasions, and Soros’ New WOGG (World Order Global Governance) — all to “level the global playing field” (i.e. a more flat world).

    DJ from San Jose

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