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.”