| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Dec 11 The company that manages a
fleet of airplanes owned and leased by Google Inc
executives Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt improperly
bought fuel from the government at below-market rates, for a
savings of up to $5.3 million according to a report released by
the NASA Inspector General on Wednesday.
The 10-page report said the discounted fuel purchases were
the result of a "misunderstanding" between a Defense Department
fuel provider and the NASA Ames Research Center, which manages
the California airfield where a Boeing 767, a military-type
Alpha Jet and several other aircraft are stored.
The report found that overall, NASA benefited from leasing
70,000 square feet of space to H211, the private company that
manages the Google executives' aircraft. The $1.4 million a year
that H211 paid NASA was at a fair market value. And NASA has
flown more than 200 flights using some of the aircraft to
collect climate data at no cost to the agency.
But while NASA did not lose any money on the fuel it sold to
H211, the report said that H211 received a monetary benefit to
which it was not entitled and recommended that NASA and H211
explore options to "remedy" the situation.
Google referred all questions to H211 Vice President Ken
Ambrose, who said he was reviewing the report, which the company
received Wednesday morning.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who has looked into the
allegations, said NASA should seek repayment for the fuel and he
has asked the Defense Department's inspector general to take a
broader look at such contracts.
Google, the world's No.1 Internet search engine, has its
headquarters four miles away from Mountain View's Moffett Field,
which is managed by NASA Ames.
The report comes as Google and other Internet companies face
criticism for what some see as abusing their hometown's
infrstructure and public works.
On Monday, protesters in San Francisco temporarily blocked a
private Google bus that ferries employees to company
headquarters. The protesters charged that the private commuter
buses clog up municipal bus stops, which they use for free.
According to the NASA report, the aviation fuel provider at
Moffett Field believed that H211 was performing only
NASA-related flights and therefore sold all fuel to the company
at the rate reserved for Defense Department entities.
Non-Defense Department entities are charged a higher rate,
although the rate does not include any state or local taxes.
Roughly three out of every four of the 229 flights that H211
flew between August 2012 and July 2013 had no connection to
NASA, the report said. The report estimated that H211 paid
between $3.3 million and $5.3 million less for fuel since 2007
than it would have paid at market rates.
It was not clear from the report whether the airplane fuel
discounts direclty benefitted Google executives or the company.
A Google regulatory filing from April 2013 said that Google
Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt owns 100 percent of one aircraft
and 33 percent of another aircraft, both of which are used by
Schmidt and other Google executives for business trips. Google
reimburses Schmidt at a rate of $7,500 per hour for use of the
planes, which the filing said was less than the actual
operational costs incurred by Schmidt.
While the report said the discounted fuel was not the result
of "intentional misconduct," the report acknowledged that it
"engendered a sense of unfairness and a perception of favoritism
toward H211 and its owners."
Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit organization that has been
critical of Google's business practices and of the H211
arrangement, called on NASA to "evict" H211 from the facility.