Google Founders Saved Millions With NASA Ames Lease Deal

A P3 Navy aircraft with Hangar One at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.  (Copyright 2008: Douglas Messier)
A P3 Navy aircraft with Hangar One at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. (Copyright 2008: Douglas Messier)

Google’s founders, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, have saved millions of dollars in fuel costs and property taxes through a lease deal with NASA Ames that allows them to house their private aircraft at Moffett Field, according to an investigation by NBC Bay Area.

Nearly $8 million worth of jet fuel that sold for as little as $1.68 a gallon was put into a fleet of seven different airplanes and two helicopters that are kept on taxpayer-owned land at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. The same jet fuel sells for two to four-and-a-half times that amount, up to $8.05 a gallon, at fixed-base operators at nearby airports in the Bay Area.

This was made possible under a NASA Space Agreement which has allowed these planes to be housed at Moffett Field since 2007. In exchange, H211 agreed to pay NASA first $113,365.74 a month in rent. That figure later dropped to $108,938.62 a month in rent and NASA was allowed to use the planes for science.

But an examination of records by NBC Bay Area in May 2012 showed that only 155 out of more than 1,039 flights were actually used for science. And these newly released fuel records show the planes used the below-market-rate fuel to fly to exotic places around the world, such as Paris, London, Cancun, Scotland, Puerto Vallarta, St. John, Hawaii, Liberia and Tahiti….

During NBC Bay Area’s investigation into these fuel records, the Defense Department announced that, effective August 31, 2013, the government will no longer sell jet fuel to H211….

Local officials in Santa Clara County confirm that the company owned by the Google founders, H211, pays no property taxes on the airplanes that are housed at Moffett—a potential loss to local tax rolls of up to $500,000 per airplane per year.

NASA officials have defended the deal as bringing in much needed revenue for the upkeep of Moffett Field as well as allowing the space agency to conduct atmospheric science. A company official said they had no choice but to buy fuel from the government.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is outraged by the deal, saying it reeks of favoritism and taxpayer subsidies of private companies. He is calling for separate investigations into the lease agreement by the inspectors general of NASA and the Department of Defense.

The controversy could increase calls in Congress to rein in NASA’s increasing use of Space Act Agreements. Elected officials are concerned the space agency has made too much use of these agreements, which often bypass traditional bidding and proposal rules and limit Congressional oversight.

NASA’s Inspector General is already conducting a comprehensive review of all of the space agency’s Space Act Agreements at the behest of Congress. It is unknown when the results of that review will be made available.

Dual IG investigations focusing specifically on the aircraft deal would bring unwanted scrutiny on NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden, who has been at odds with Administrator Charles Bolden. Earlier this year, rumor surfaced that Bolden wanted to re-assign Worden out of NASA Ames, but nothing happened.

Read the full story.